Trina Solar: EU trade case major setback for PV08. June 2012 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Top News | By: Jonathan Gifford
With only days to go before Intersolar Europe opens its doors, talk of an EU trade case - similar to the U.S.-Sino one - is becoming more common on the photovoltaic rumor mill. Chinese manufacturer Trina Solar has made adjustments to cope with the provisional tariffs imposed and Ben Hill, President of Trina Solar Europe, spoke to pv magazine about its possible implications and more.
How closely are you monitoring potential for PV trade case moving to Europe?
Very closely, there’s not a lot of support for such an action, other than of course the coal industry and the oil and gas industry. I think it would be a very, very sad thing for renewable energy if that was to happen, so I hope that it won’t happen.
Why would tariffs in the EU be a bad thing for PV?
I’ve been in PV for the last 26 years and we have worked very, very hard to get the cost down to a point where it actually becomes an energy source that can actually do without subsidies and become an energy source which is the chosen source of power and energy because it’s the right energy source in terms of price, not because it’s "green electrons". And right at the point of being able to do that, just as new technological solutions for storage and other things to resolve technical issues for large-scale PV power, we have a trade dispute.
In the best case it will take a lot of attention away from growing the market and making happen what we need to happen. In the worst-case scenario if it were to happen then it would put PV back five years, and that would be a real shame.
In terms of production for the U.S. market, we’ve seen Chinese manufacturers moving to OAM production outside of mainland China, what is Trina doing with regards to that?
The modules that we’re shipping now to the U.S. have solar cells that are made from outside of China and so in that sense we’re not so affected by it. In the U.S. the tariffs are only provisional, the detailed investigation into the trade dispute is happening right now and because we know the numbers, I think there’s a high level of confidence that the claims will be proven not to be valid. Let’s see what happens when the final decision comes out in October / November.
In the U.S. most of the industry leaders are clearly stating that such a thing is very bad for the industry. The growth of the U.S. industry is about being able to sign PPAs. PPAs are not waiting for PV. The numbers are the numbers and either you can do PPAs or you can’t. And if in the future you’re not able to sell electricity at the price electricity consumers are willing to pay for it, then they’ll use another energy source.
Looking back to Europe, because the market is so much bigger and Trina would be shipping so much more volume there, then wouldn’t the sheer volume of production mean that OAM deals for cell manufacture outside of China mean that OAM production won’t work in the same way as it does for the U.S.-bound production?
Let’s see if any case were to come up and if a case is drawn up, it’s highly unlikely to be exactly the same sort of case than we saw in the U.S., so let’s see what the claim if any by SolarWorld would be. Then we’ll understand what action we’d need to take to deal with that.
Looking upstream, what is the situation with Trina and middle or even long-term polysilicon contracts, because polysilicon prices have fallen so significantly it’s not a good thing to have these long-term contracts?
We don’t have any of these long-term "take or pay" deals, which are crippling companies like SolarWorld in fact. We have a balance of longer-term contracts with our silicon suppliers and supply from the spot market.
What kind of demand has there been from the Trinamount mounting systems?
It’s just starting and it’s basically answering a demand for lowering cost of the total installed system. I think the key now is to get the price of the whole system down, it’s not just the module. Trinamount basically reduces the time of installation; it also increases safety, by reducing the amount of time on the roof for the installer; reduces the number of parts; and that reduces cost on the system level, which is what is important. It also means that for the installer, in times of great demand, can install more systems in one day.
How are you getting the word out about the Trinamount system, will it be showcased at the Intersolar Europe, next week in Munich?
Absolutely, you will see that at our stand (A1.280) and we’ve been doing quite a lot of training. Our training engineers around Europe have been basically on road shows, working with our customers and with utilities, training them on the Trinamount system, in a realistic environment. Slowly installers will start buying the systems and using them as a standard product.
Trina has also launched an installer program in Europe, where is that at and how will it be rolled out?
That’s in Germany, one week ago we opened it in Italy and a few weeks ago we launched in the UK. So it’s a relatively new program that we’ve rolled out. We’re very happy with the responses so far and can positively identify the pull through of sales from that program.
What’s in it for the installer?
The installer gets a whole variety of things. To simplify it, it’s like a "Miles and More" (Frequent Flier/Fly Buys) program. You can win points by buying a Trina product and those points can be used for a number of different things, including help with marketing materials. Ultimately there are financial incentives for that, maybe stock preferences and different preferences will be developed for the whole program. The key is identifying benefits, which will allow you to beat your competitor in the market, from an installer point of view.
Are their similar programs from other major manufacturers in Europe?
We’ve seen other incentive programs from other manufacturers. The old BP Solar program, which was an installer program, was very successful. Obviously BP Solar is not around anymore but that program was very successful. Almost all the other programs we’ve seen on the market are aimed at the distributor level and the distributor’s needs and requirements are completely different to the installer.
What’s the advantage of the new range of "Honey" modules?
The Honey modules, as we get down to cost against efficiency, the higher the efficiency the product you have on the roof, the cheaper the installation and also, in theory, the cheaper to manufacture the product. One of Trina’s advantages in terms of having the most efficient product lines is that once you’ve developed the cell technology, the fundamental cost of making your module is pretty much the same. So your cost to manufacture a 230W is pretty much the same as a 280W module, obviously the cells are a different cost and formation.
Ultimately that allows for the whole system to be reduced and especially in Europe we’re going to a market that is more dominated by roofs and less by the free fields, then certainly area efficiency becomes important.
The Honey is a fairly young technology, and we’ve seen with First Solar after they made some efficiency gains and rolled it out across their fabs (between June 2008 and June 2009) only to face "low power module" issues, how confident are you that the technology is fully mature?
Very. There are different parts to the technology, the Honey technology around the solar cell level, but we’ve also updated some the technology at the module level. So I think a lot of that has been tried and tested over a long period of time in the Trina labs. So in that sense we’re very confident. The modules that we’ve put out we’ve been monitoring and we believe that the technology itself is not something that could have issues that could lead to degradation.
Is it correct that the key aspect to the Honey cell technology is that it is a textured cell surface, so that more light is captured?
That’s the biggest single source of it. But there’s also double printing on the screens to allow more current collection, without taking up more surface area of the solar cell. So there’s a lot innovation in there that leads to the Honey cell technology.
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