Collaboration not competition

Dr. Shawn Qu, the CEO of Canadian Solar, believes in collaboration, not competition. He sees the opportunity for market leaders like Canadian Solar to work together with other companies, especially in Germany, as he points out, to establish common standards and push forward the technology frontiers for photovoltaics. "We have four to five percent of the worldwide market share for solar modules. Moving forward is our target. And this target translates to being top five and gaining ten percent market share. We have a large responsibility. It is a responsibility as well for other partners, for other solar companies. That is why I believe in collaboration and not competition," he tells pv magazine. The entrepreneur founded Canadian Solar in 2001, and it quickly grew to become one of the top ten module suppliers in 2009.

In the last months, news had been flowing out of Canada at breakneck speed, pertaining to the PV market. Ontario took the lead and announced project after project. Was this going to be the new Germany? "The Ontario market is a promising one. The current government in Ontario passed the green energy act about a year ago. It set up its feed-in tariff schemes for renewables, including solar so the market picked up pretty fast this year and will do so next year as well," explains Qu. Nevertheless, he remains cautious about making sweeping predictions. "However, the market still has to prove to be sustainable. The current feed-in tariffs will come into review end of 2012. The government has not stated what they are going to do after the review," he adds.

That is the reason why Canadian Solar has been working on ensuring that they can maintain a sustainable market environment in Ontario by working closely with solar associations and other companies. Qu continues, "We make sure our voice can be heard at the government levels through the industry associations and stakeholders."

This is a slight contrast to the gloomy cloud that has been circling over Europe. Cuts, cuts, cuts. That’s what the public and the sector have been hearing relating to feed-in tariffs in countries like Germany and Spain. Does this mean the European solar sector is weakening? On the other hand, the Asian economic giants like the Chinese have been relentless with developing their solar sector and the growth has been nothing short of astounding. Is the eastern continent a threat to PV in Europe?

"The Chinese solar market is on a fast development mode," agrees Qu, "but I don’t think the Chinese solar market can overtake the leadership role Europe has, yet." He continues, "Renewables are at a more advanced stage in Europe, in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and Czech Republic. For the next ten years at least, Europe will probably still be the leader in photovoltaics." Good news for Europe there!

Qu, nevertheless believes that the Asian market is heading in the right direction. He identifies three key markets: Japan, China and South Korea. He believes that the market growth of other countries, outside of Europe, like Canada, the U.S. and Asian countries can only be good for the photovoltaics industry. He tells pv magazine, "We want major countries to pick up the responsibility towards renewable energy, don’t we? Besides, it will also create export opportunities for countries like Germany."

The question of quality is always raised, almost as often as the question of corporate social responsibility (CSR). These topics are at times taken for granted as we are in a clean energy sector and that puts the PV products and practices in a good light. Still, CSR is something that is not taken for granted by Canadian Solar. Qu highlights, "We maintain high standards in terms of CSR. We pay competitive wages, have employee training programs and other benefits as well. CSR extends beyond a standard employee package. We see employees as partners rather."

The University of Toronto graduate and physicist sees the company only moving forward in the sector, globally. He also sees that the solar sector is on the right direction, making the right moves, although sustainability of the level of acceptance and success remains always in question.