A new chapter for Asia12 / 2011, Markets & Trends | By: Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger
PV Asia Pacific Expo: The PV Asia Pacific Expo made its debut in Singapore between November 1 and 3 this year. The exhibition halls were not as full of visitors as expected, but it did manage to bring in top-level decision-makers from leading companies as well as a solid series of conferences. pv magazine reports from the sunny Southeast Asian island.
Southeast Asia is definitely emerging as the next big market for photovoltaics and Singapore looks set to be the hub. That was the message sent out at the PV Asia Pacific Expo that ran parallel to the Singapore International Energy Week. The event saw the gathering of the industry’s movers and shakers, mainly from China and India, as well as respected specialists from global organizations and institutes like Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, SERIS (Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin among others. The event took place at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center, adding a touch of prestige.
Asian PV Industry Association
The establishment of the Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association (APVIA) was an important highlight of the event. Suntech’s founder and CEO Zhenrong Shi was appointed the new the Chief Chairman of the APVIA. The association is seen as necessary to encourage closer cooperation between Asian PV players, akin to EPIA’s role in Europe. “APVIA’s goal is to increase investment into photovoltaics in the region, and to communicate with regional governments to advocate photovoltaics,” Shi stated at the opening ceremony.
JA Solar’s Chief Executive Officer Peng Fang tells pv magazine how important the Southeast Asian market is becoming, for both manufacturers and investors alike. “Asia-Pacific PV is already growing very fast,” he said. “Countries like Malaysia and Thailand in this region are also seeing an increase in PV activity. What the region now needs is to align the policies and start figuring out the right system, feed-in tariffs (FITs) and so on, to push for solar.” Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association President, Shamsuddin Khalid highlights the current state of Southeast Asian photovoltaics aptly: “The countries with the most ... sunshine are the ones with the least policy movements.” This by no means points to inactivity in the region, but rather the speed of things. “How do we convince the governments in the region that solar PV is the best alternative?” he asks. Malaysia is in no way inactive in PV. The country leads regional development in PV along with Thailand.
The Southeast Asian region is blessed with both sun and natural fossil fuels. EPIA’s Board Director, Murray Cameron, adds how difficult things can be for PV when conventional energy sources like gas are heavily subsidized in the region. Khalid agrees, giving the example that natural gas in Malaysia has received 110-150 million MYR (approximately 25 to 35 million euros) in subsidies. There are strong support groups and lobbyists for conventional fuels and photovoltaics has to fight for its place amongst these giants.
With the APVIA now established, the future roadmap to strengthen solar in the Asian realm has been officially launched.
Singapore as hub
The Singapore Economic Development Board’s (EDB) Goh Chee Kiong realizes that Singapore is not going to be become a multi-megawatt market for the industry, but “Singapore can play a vital role as a hub for PV players to establish their headquarters.” This has been the case for many international PV players like Conergy, Phoenix Solar, Renewable Energy Corporation, SolarWorld, Bosch and recently Heraeus and Trina Solar feeling comfortable with offices on the island. Be it manufacturing facilities, research labs or Asia-Pacific headquarters, many feel that Singapore is the choice location as a springboard into the region.
Tying in to the goal of APVIA, Jifan Gao, Chairman and CEO of Trina Solar, emphasizes the role of Singapore as the hub to communicate and bring together the solar players in the region.
Si Pro’s CEO Erik Bjørstad tells pv magazine, “Singapore is ideal, especially with its high level of intellectual property protection.” The environmental protection laws are also stringent as Bjørstad adds, highlighting the importance of such regulations to ensure that the PV industry remains on a sustainable path. After all, the industry produces a consumer product and the life cycle needs to be sustainable and corporate social responsibility cannot slip either. Si Pro is a turn-key provider of silicon recycling services and has a plant in Singapore as well. Recycling is also becoming a very big issue in an industry that cannot automatically qualify as green solely because the product enables green energy.
“Having a facility in Singapore as well allows for us to cooperate with companies in the region easily and help them recover a high yield,” Bjørstad adds. Recycling in the crystalline value chain is something that is little talked about. However, 2011’s lower profit margins are pushing for more ways to save, and recycling the large amount of silicon that is lost in the value chain – about 70 percent – can, without a doubt, help manufacturers cut costs.
Heraeus’ Pete Horan adds that location played a vital role in the company’s selection of the island for its new silver paste production facility. Tan Choon Shian, Deputy Managing Director, EDB, adds that being located in the heart of Asia provides access to key Asian markets.
The extensive Free Trade Agreements and the pro-business environment have also provided Singapore with the key attributes to become a PV hub for Asia. The speed at which things move in the country is also an attractive factor.
Heraeus Photovoltaic Business Unit’s Vice President and Global Manager, Andy London tells pv magazine that the plant was built in just a few months, having few administrative and bureaucratic hurdles to set up and start running. “We broke ground in February and were finished by May.” And, while the rather somber photovoltaic situation and looming euro crisis may have dampened things a little for the industry, people are remaining positive judging from responses at the event. As Schmid’s Frank Tinnefeld tells pv magazine, “yes, things may be a little slow and the shakeout may be happening, but I believe that the industry will pick up by 2013.” Alternatives are also seen as possibly the next big thing in the years to come. Alternatives in the renewable energy sector comprise technologies like thin film and concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). Shanghai New Energy Industry Association’s Chief Representative of Europe, Nabih Cherradi, calls them the “much ignored section of the PV industry,” and this was aptly highlighted at one of the conferences held during the three-day event. Nabih, who moderated the sessions at the Solar Leaders Summit on ‘Alternatives to crystalline silicon’ and the ‘Commercialization of innovative technologies,’ posed the question of whether these alternatives can provide any benefits over crystalline technologies.
Amidst the entire thin-film buzz under the alternatives umbrella, CPV’s importance is, as is often the case, undermined. Patrick McCullough, CFO of Amonix, sees investment as the biggest barrier to this technology really taking off on a large scale. “If we start looking at CPV efficiencies, we wonder and go ‘wow’, yet the technology is underutilized,” adds Nabih.
Lux Research’s Will Polese also says that finances are the missing link in alternative solar technologies. “Financing is the most immature link in this industry,” he says, pointing to the fact that the demand is there, but the more complicated financing mechanisms in the alternatives sector are retarding growth.
A new facility opens
Tying in with the debut of a pure PV show in Singapore, precious metals and technology group Heraeus opened its regional research and manufacturing facility in Singapore after the Asia Pacific PV Expo on Friday with a traditional Singaporean lion dance. The Heraeus Asia Center located in Tuas, Singapore will specialize in a full suite of end-to-end services driven by the Photovoltaics Business Unit, comprising research and development, sales and technical services, to support the fast-growing Asia Pacific demand for solar cell products. pv magazine was present on-site to witness the official launch of the new facility where a current capacity of 240 metric tons can be produced. However, the facility hopes to produce enough silver paste for 20 GW of PV capacity by 2014. Heraeus will also be conducting intensive research with a dedicated R&D department also housed in the facility (see interview).
Light drizzle to end the week
The debut PV event in Singapore came to a close on a positive note. EDB’s Goh says that he is pleased with this expo in Singapore. He added that the first step has now been taken to place Singapore on the solar map. The country may not develop to be a huge market, but it is definitely turning out to be a prime location for photovoltaic manufacturers to set up their research and development facilities, and Asia Pacific head offices. Singapore, it seems, is now indeed ready to play with the big boys of PV.