Solar panel

Workers take a break in the shade of a solar panel during construction of a solar farm in Milligan, Tennessee. Two-sided solar panels, which produce power on both sides of the panels, are exempt from the Trump administration's tariffs.

The solar industry has a new way of ducking the Trump administration’s tariffs on its imports: two-sided panels.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a notice made public Wednesday that it’s granting an exemption to solar duties for bifacial panels, ones that can generate power on both sides. The carve-out is a win for both Asian manufacturers and big U.S. solar-farm developers that can easily switch over.

“This could insulate almost the entire utility-scale market from tariffs,” BloombergNEF solar analyst Hugh Bromley said. “I would expect the utility-scale industry to pivot almost 100% to bifacial products.”

The exemption may represent the clearest solution yet for an industry that’s been roiled by the import tariffs, imposed by the Trump administration in January 2018 as a way of leveling the playing field for U.S. panel makers. Some companies have already shifted their supply chains to skirt the duties. Others are building factories in the U.S. In September, California-based panel maker SunPower Corp. won an exemption, arguing that its panels — made mostly in factories abroad — are a premium product.

“We’ve been advocating for additional exclusions, and bifacial modules in particular, for over a year now,” said John Smirnow, vice president of market strategy for the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association. “This exemption will accelerate the adoption of bifacial technology in the U.S.”

Roth Capital Partners said the news may be negative for U.S. solar company First Solar Inc. and positive for Asian solar companies and Canadian Solar Inc., which in May agreed to supply 1,800 megawatts of bifacial and traditional modules to EDF Renewables North America, based in Houston.

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