California-headquartered solar panel manufacturer Sunpreme recently popped up in federal court documents, bringing an end to court battles stretching back to 2015.
Sunpreme makes bifacial, double-glass, frameless modules that use an innovative “hybrid cell technology (HCT)” that is a mixture of silicon and thin-film. Thin amorphous-silicon (a-Si) films are deposited on silicon substrates for a hybrid solar panel. The company produces its cells in Jiaxing, China, and modules are assembled in the Philippines.
The legal issues with Sunpreme’s hybrid product can be traced back to 2012 when anti-dumping duties were placed on crystalline silicon Chinese solar cells. Sunpreme sneakily avoided the import tax because the company branded its hybrid panels as thin-film, according to court documents. In 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection caught on, and the Dept. of Commerce opened an investigation into whether Sunpreme’s modules were subject to the silicon tariffs and if the company should have to pay back the tariffs it had avoided.
A May 16, 2019, federal court filing finally brought an end to the lawsuits and appeals around the case. Sunpreme’s imported modules were officially found to fall within the scope of the anti-dumping duty orders, but the company is not required to pay back-tariffs on the modules that arrived while Commerce was looking into the situation (between April 2015 and December 2015). Sunpreme may in fact be eligible for a refund on the taxes it paid between that seven-month period in 2015, taken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
So with that all sorted, let’s just take a look at what else has been happening with Sunpreme. Solar Power World reached out to the company for comment but has been unable to reach executives. A few high-ranking officials have recently left the company, and we have only been able to confirm with various distributors whether they are still stocking Sunpreme products.
Sunpreme was founded in 2010 and first appears in Solar Power World archives in September 2012 after receiving UL and IEC certification for its G60 solar modules. Sunpreme’s modules have been a popular choice among many solar installers, especially on carport projects, and the company was recently recognized as a top-performing brand in efficiency tests by the Renewable Energy Test Center. Sunpreme’s latest 72-cell bifacial module was tested to 24.1% module efficiency with 20% backside power boost and over 450 W of bifacial output.
In the more recent tariff battle, when the Trump Administration put duties on almost all imported solar panels, regardless of country of origin, Sunpreme was one of many companies requesting an exemption in early 2018. The company argued that since it was a U.S. headquartered company, it’s Chinese-made panels should be tariff-free. The federal government denied Sunpreme’s exemption request in September 2018.
But, Sunpreme’s bifacial modules will benefit from the federal government’s latest batch of exemptions, announced in June 2019. The government has officially excluded all brands of bifacial modules from the tariffs — a significant win for Sunpreme, although its Chinese components are still under their own individual tariffs.
Sunpreme was in the news around Solar Power International 2018 when Greentech Media reported that the company was planning a Texas solar cell and module assembly plant, which was expected to open in 2019. It was revealed that Sunpreme had brought “about 60 to 65% of assembly” of its HCT modules to the United States through a California OEM. The company wanted to be completely made in the United States. Solar Power World was never able to verify the seriousness of the Texas plant, and industry researcher Paula Mints called Sunpreme’s timeline of the supposed 400-MW plant “ridiculous and an example of an announcement not supported by the realities of cell technology development” in an Oct. 2, 2018, tweet. No other confirmation around the Texas plant has ever been announced.
Solar Power World will be following Sunpreme as the company continues business now with a legal definition attached to its solar panel product and an exclusion from the Section 201 solar tariffs.