SNEC Shanghai: Faster, larger, more professional

The pace in China is simply faster than in Europe." This, in a nutshell, is the assessment from Gerhard Wohlhüter, head of the energy division at Kuka Systems. In just a few years, the SNEC PV in Shanghai has developed into a showcase for who’s who in the industry, with Chinese manufacturers as well as European and American mechanical engineering companies nailing their colors to the mast at the Shanghai New International Expo Center.

Over 1,800 exhibitors were on hand at the 13 exhibition halls, which boast a good 200,000 square meters of space. According to information provided by the organizers, approximately 100,000 visitors were in attendance at the SNEC PV this year. Whether this figure is completely accurate or not, there was a lot of hustle and bustle at the numerous stands virtually up to the end of the exhibition, and the exhibitors surveyed by pv magazine unanimously reported that there was a high level of quality – that is, a real interest in making purchases on the part of the trade exhibition visitors.

Centrotherm chairman Peter Fath was not the only one to comment that "on the very first day of the exhibition, we had more people signing than at the entire EU PVSEC in Valencia." According to information provided by Fath, the company now sells "90 percent of its products to Asia". Meanwhile, Amber Schramm from Despatch Industries described it as the "best show ever". In Shanghai, the U.S. company celebrated the sale of its 1,000th firing furnace, with the lion’s share going to China.

The announcements made by the Chinese manufacturers about expanding capacities for crystalline cell and module production were also impressive, whether it was the gigawatt class of the Yingli’s, Trina’s, Suntech’s or Hanwha’s, or the several hundred megawatt class of the Upsolar’s or Astronergy’s. Incidentally, Astronergy is one of the few companies in Shanghai that announced an expansion of its capacities in the thin film segment; the bottom line in Shanghai otherwise is that crystalline modules are clearly setting the tone once again this year.

However, it was not only scaling-up that was the hot topic at SNEC, but also the question of quality. Many of the exhibitors surveyed by pv magazine reported that Chinese customers are also paying increasing attention to quality. Thus, for example, GP Solar sold four to five times as many products when it came to measuring technology last year than in 2009 and, according to managing director Eric Rüland, the company expects to see continued strong growth in this segment this year as well.

"People are becoming more and more conscious of quality in China," Karl-Heinz Menauer, managing director of ACI-ecotec stressed. As a result, attention is no longer exclusively focused on low cost when it comes to invitations to tender for public contracts for the Chinese Golden Sun Project, but also on the track record of the company bidding and the reliability the modules and components employed, explained Frank S. Liu, general manager of Chint Power Systems.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how China continues to develop as a production location and as a young installation market. Next year’s SNEC PV 2012 will surely be a good barometer.