First Intersolar China gets off to a slow start

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Instead of long lines, it was a rather quick entrance at today’s opening of Intersolar China, which is being held at the elegant China National Convention Center in Beijing. The number of visitors was very manageable and in front of a range of booths there was little activity to be seen.

"We will probably have to reduce the visitor forecast from a total of 7,500 for the three day event to a lower figure," said the project head, Tina Engelhard, of the trade show organizer, Solar Promotion International.

The number of exhibitors also remained well below the forecast of the organizer. Instead of the expected 250 exhibitors, only 130 turned out, mostly in the areas of photovoltaic cell and panel manufacturing. Meanwhile, top-tier solar panel manufacturers like Yingli, Suntech and JA Solar stood out by not being present at the show. In most cases, the exhibiting panel manufacturers were second- or third-tier suppliers.

Expanding

What did become clear, however, is that the photovoltaic market in China is expanding at a good pace, while the competition is heating up, not only in the trade show sector.

Accordingly, foreign inverter manufacturers like SMA and Refusol expect significantly reduced product sales this year, compared to 2010. SMA’s sales manager Wang Zhiqiang sees a decline from 15 megawatts (MW) in sales last year, to about six MW this year; Refusol, a reduction from ten MW (2010) to three MW, according to general manager, Gert Lang-Alischer. "We could have sold a lot more products, but at such a low price level, that it would not have made economic sense for us to do so," he emphasized.

To get a foot in the door of the expanding Chinese market despite the price and cost pressure, both SMA and Refusol are counting on local production initiatives. According to Lang-Alischer, Refusol is planning to open a production site with a scale of one gigawatt (GW) in Shanghai this coming spring. And Zhiquiang points to local sourcing efforts by SMA to drive down the costs of its components.

For both companies the driving force behind these initiatives is the price pressure and the fairly low compensation paid for solar power generation in China, where rates are capped at 1.15 Renminbi (around $0.18; €0.13) per kilowatt hour at the national level.

There are still two more days to go at the first Intersolar China. Let’s hope it manages to make its mark on the solar trade show map, with an increase in visitors over the remaining time.