China: Booming project pipelines and capacity ramp ups

23. March 2012 | Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends, Top News | By:  Becky Stuart

The Asia Solar 2012 and Solarcon events may not have been booming in terms of visitor numbers, but the message was clear: China will be a pivotal player in the photovoltaic industry.

Big plans are in store in China.

As Solarbuzz's Ray Lian remarked in his presentation at Solarcon, China is set to become the number one solar player. And, talking with the exhibitors at Asia Solar, big plans are afoot in both the project and manufacturing spheres.

Zhou Zhou, vice manager of marketing at TW Solar told pv magazine that the company plans to ramp up its polysilicon capacity from 4,000 MT to 10,000 MT by the end of the year: it is building a new factory in Sichuan Province to accommodate the growth. Meanwhile, over the next three to five years, its solar wafer and cell capacity will grow from 30 megawatts (MW) each to a cumulative capacity of two gigawatts (GW).

Currently TW Solar's wafers and cells are not available on the market, but the goal is for them to be available by the end of the year. To begin with, all products will be sold to the Chinese market, but the company will look to international markets in the future. In terms of photovoltaic modules, the company intends to hire OEM manufacturers to put its modules together; they will then be integrated into complete photovoltaic systems.

TW Solar also offers EPC services and is looking to install one GW worth of projects in Xinjiang Province. Phase one will see a trial project of 30 MW installed, hopefully this year. Zhou Zhou said, however, that there are still a lot of formalities to go through, despite the fact that all permits had been received.

Inverter manufacturer, Samil Power, currently produces four GW of products in China. To its main market, Australia, the company achieves over 20 percent of its sales. Meanwhile, this year, the U.K. is expected to be a bigger market for it than Germany, which has traditionally been one of its most interesting sales destinations. David Zhong, international sales manager told pv magazine that the company is developing new inverters, specifically for the German market, though he could not give out any further details.

TBEA Silicon Co. Ltd has big plans in the pipeline for 2012. Currently, it manufactures 3,000 MT worth of silicon. However, by the end of 2012, it expects capacity to ramp up to 10,000 MT. Most of its product is supplied to the big Chinese solar companies, like Trina Solar. TBEA also manufacturers 200 MW of inverters annually, and 150 MW of photovoltaic modules. BP owns 49 percent of the company, but it is looking to sell this share back to TBEA. While TBEA is said to be open to other cooperations, it will try to manage the business on its own.

In addition to manufacturing solar products, the company is also heavily involved in the project business in China. In 2011, it installed 320 MW; in 2012, it has a pipeline worth 550 MW across five provinces, which has been contracted by the "Big 5" state-owned utility companies.

The spokespeople explained to pv magazine that installation costs are around 12 RMB (US$1.91) per Watt and equipment is sourced according to price. As such, it does not necessarily use its own products. They added that the company can install projects in China due to its good relationship with the utility companies – something that was repeated by all of those who pv magazine spoke to. Additionally, it is listed on the Shanghai stock exchange and can thus prove its bankability.

Hanergy's strategy is to expand its business from China to the international market, to regions like Bulgaria, Italy and the U.S. Germany, it said, is not so interesting this year, due to the weakened political support. Overall, the company has nine production bases in China, six of which make its amorphous silicon thin film photovoltaic modules. While it has already produced around one GW worth of modules, it plans to reach a cumulative capacity of two GW this year. As such, it is in the process of building a new production line, with its own technology, which is scheduled for completion in 2013. When finished, it will take annual production capacity to 70 MW.

In terms of installing projects in China, a spokesperson said the company is targeting a massive six GW. By 2020, they added that at least 20 MW will be installed in the west of the country; system costs are said to be 15 RMB (US$2.39) per Watt. In order to execute its plans, it says it cooperates with local governments and utility companies in producing electricity. Despite this, it acknowledges that there are problems with grid connection. The government is said to be working on this now via a smart grid project.

The spokesperson concluded by saying that the company will never sell its photovoltaic modules as there is no profit in doing this.

This sentiment was echoed by Canadian Solar. The spokesperson told pv magazine that due to the falling costs, it is no longer profitable to just sell modules. Therefore, the company is pursuing the downstream strategy of installing projects.

In 2012, Canadian Solar plans to install 300 MW worth of projects in China. The majority will be added in the west, however some will be installed under the Golden Sun program across the country. It is not certain when work will actually begin on the projects. Already in December 2011, a 30 MW plant was commissioned and grid connected in Ningxia Province for the state-owned China Electric Company. Installation costs were around 11 RMB (US$1.75) per Watt.

In terms of investment, the spokesperson said that the company will try to bring in foreign capital, from such companies as juwi and, when the projects are complete, it will try to sell them on. In response to the question of how a company can go about installing projects in China, they said that the company has to be big, have good technology, its own EPC team and financing. It has spent the last four to five years building up its relationship with the various relevant parties.

Looking at its module business, the spokesperson explained that annual module capacity is around 2.05 GW: this is expected to continue into 2012. The emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East, South Africa and Asia accounted for around 10 percent of its sales last year, and this is expected to continue into this year. China is forecast to be a major market for Canadian Solar in 2012, although a big focus is still being placed on Germany and the U.S.

As its name suggests, Giga Solar has big plans for China in the coming year. In 2011, the company installed and grid connected a 30 MW solar farm in Jiang Su Province in just 45 days. It expects to build 100 MW in the country this year, again in Jiang Su and has already started construction on the first 60 MW.

Giga Solar additionally has an eye on the international market and is planning to establish a 100 MW photovoltaic module manufacturing line in Italy in the first half of this year. Negotiations are currently ongoing. It also plans to install 100 MW in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. Specifically, it is planning to grid connect a 10 MW system in the UAE.

Again, it says that there is no profit in selling modules, which is why it is focusing more heavily on project development. It has a capacity to manufacture two GW worth of modules across 22 production lines, although is running at approximately a third of its capacity. Most of its product is sold into the domestic market.

Watch out for more news on the Chinese solar market in the coming weeks, and the May edition of pv magazine.


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