A new chapter begins for Asian solar

01. November 2011 | Top News, Industry & Suppliers, Global PV markets, Markets & Trends | By:  Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger/Becky Stuart

Today marked the opening of the PV Asia Pacific Expo at the Marina Bay Sands convention center Singapore. The event, which will be held until November 3, was kicked off with the announcement that Suntech’s founder and CEO has been appointed the new the chief chairman of APVIA. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s solar importance has been highlighted.

Marina Bay Sands convention center, Singapore

The PV Asia Pacific Expo is being held at the Marina Bay Sands convention center Singapore

"APVIA's [Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association’s] goal is to increase investment into photovoltaics in the region, and to communicate with regional governments to advocate photovoltaics," Zhengrong Shi stated at the opening ceremony.

He also emphasized the beginning of a closer cooperation amongst Asian photovoltaic players, adding that the "role [of APVIA] is similar to that of EPIA in Europe."

It also became clear during the course of the ceremony that aside from the already-established Asian photovoltaic giants China and India, the Southeast Asian region is fast-becoming another solar darling.

JA Solar's CEO Peng Fang told 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 particularly 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."

FITs for the region

The conference, 'Asia Pacific: The next growth frontier for the solar market', brought up the issue of renewable energy policies, or the lack of them, particularly for photovoltaics in the region.

Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association president, Shamsuddin Khalid highlighted the current state of Southeast Asian photovoltaics aptly: "The countries with the most amount of 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 asked.

Malaysia has been making headlines with its hopeful FIT-proposal. Khalid hopes for the final FITs to be in place by end of the year. Nevertheless, the policy making and implementation of FITs is "too slow", according to one conference participant. He added that with the massive fall in system prices, things ought to already pick up in the region and be moving at a quicker pace.

EPIA's board director, Murray Cameron, explained how difficult things can be for photovoltaics when conventional energy sources like gas are heavily subsidized in the region. Khalid agreed, giving the example that natural gas in Malaysia has received 110-150 million MYR in subsidies. There are strong support groups and lobbies for conventional fuels and photovoltaics has to fight for its place amongst these giants.

The panel 'Impending grid parity in Asia Pacific' brought up the importance of government support and the establishment of the right mechanisms to lend the initial boost for photovoltaics. Cameron highlighted that perhaps FITs are not the only way to go. After all, the FIT bubble that has popped, and is continuing to pop, in Europe can be a lesson to learn from.

He added that aside from FITs, the regional governments can also consider other options like guaranteed and priority access to the grid.

Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance and moderator for the second panel on grid parity further stated that with the Spanish and German FIT-situations in the background, FITs can be a double-edged sword. Food for thought. The long term goal, however, for grid parity, as JA Solar's Fang added, is to "move from a subsidy-driven market to a market-driven one".

The China debate

It also became rather clear that not everyone believes that the government support in China and the massive manufacturing might of the country is destroying the solar industry. The dumping prices debate, which has made headlines in recent weeks, did not escape mention at the event.

Some manufacturers pv magazine spoke with declined to comment on the matter, stating that it is simply too sensitive, while others spoke about how the industry ought to actually appreciate the efforts of the Chinese government to support their photovoltaic industry, and provide a sustainable environment to thrive, innovate and grow.

One manufacturer who asked not to be named said that many countries have subsidized and pushed for development of other sectors years before, so why pick out solar and why blame the Chinese now? "Shouldn't governments see this positive trend and also encourage and support their domestic companies?" he asked.

Location, location

Trina Solar announced the establishment of its Asia Pacific regional headquarters in Singapore. The manufacturer hopes to strengthen its management functions, administration, sales, project development, R&D, logistics, and purchasing operations in the region with its new headquarters.

Trina is not the only one present and active in the country. In the last few years, many photovoltaic companies have set up manufacturing, R&D or headoffices for the region there.

Tying in to the goal of APVIA, Jifan Gao,chairman and CEO of Trina Solar, emphasized the role of Singapore as the hub to communicate and bring together the solar players in the region.

Renewable Energy Corporation's (REC) Ole Enger also talked about the central role Singapore is playing in the region. REC's Singapore plant has been doing very well, thus helping to provide a more positive outlook to the rather gloomy news of closures and financial losses.

Enger pointed out how important it is becoming for photovoltaic manufacturers to wisely choose their location. Logistics, manpower, attitude, resources, government support and efficiency are just some of the key factors that play a crucial role in creating the perfect equation for a successful business.

Southeast Asia seems to have definitely jumped onto the solar bandwagon and is ready to follow its South Asian and Eastern neighbors. Only time will tell, however, how successful the individual countries will be.


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