BYD: Plenty of expertise in solar and storage

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Given its combined expertise in PV and storage, BYD can provide comprehensive on- and off-grid solutions in various markets as power storage becomes a key component of PV solutions. Others are recognizing the company’s multi-faceted energy expertise and it is one of three finalists in the 2013 Zayed Future Energy Prize.

BYD can tap the lithium iron phosphate battery technology it developed for its electric vehicles and then applied to communications products and the energy field. Zhao says the company has shipped 165 MW of such storage solutions already, with about half going to solar and other renewable energy applications.

In terms of cost, he points to a project in the Middle East with the U.S. energy multinational Chevron, where a single BYD container priced at about US$1 million delivers 1 MWh of stored electricity. These standard containers can be connected, so that storage capacities of 2 MWh and more can be readily realized.

For residential PV markets, the company offers a 3 kW/ 8 kWh battery which, according to Zhao, represents an ideal solution for various U.S. markets, where residential users pay the highest prices for electricity in the morning and evening.

By incorporating its Distributed Energy Storage System (DESS) as part of the PV solution, homeowners can tap the stored electricity in the morning and then do the same in the evening after the PV system has provided new energy to the battery. And during the night, the battery can be charged using power provided from the grid at off-peak rates.

On the PV module side, of course, the current trade dispute and anti-dumping and countervailing duties in the U.S. market are putting a damper on BYD’s plans in that region of the world. But like similar Chinese companies, it is turning to Taiwanese cell manufacturers to come up with a duty-free solution for the U.S.

However, as attractive as this loophole might appear, new cells require recertification of the modules for the American market. And certification in the U.S. can take a number of months to secure.

Another option, which would not rely on the loophole currently available, would be to set up a production facility in the U.S. As Zhao points out, just setting up a module production facility in the U.S. like the one in Shanghai would not be good enough, though. To be really tariff-proof, an expensive cell production facility would have to be placed there as well and that gives the business case a completely different dimension.

Where module fabs are sufficient to gain traction in a national market, BYD is considering such international expansion. One example is South Africa, where the company will supply 100 MW of modules the country’s first bidding round, and 200 MW under the second. To service this market and future tenders, a module production plant is in the planning.

On the international front Zhao can tap strong partnerships in Europe, where juwi Holding AG in Germany is the leading customer for BYD’s panels. He sees Ukraine as a "very good market based on the very high electricity price of three to five US cents per kilowatt-hour."

In Japan, the situation has also improved a lot with the new ground-mounted PV segment open to Chinese manufacturers like BYD. So far Chinese suppliers have been largely shut out of the residential PV market, the mainstay of Japan’s market prior to the new feed-in tariff launched in July 2012, but this is not the case in the large-scale market. Given its established network on the automobile side, BYD is in a good position to enter this market.

And down under in Australia, the company is teaming up with the Canberra-based utility AGL Energy to supply its panels to a 400 MW PV project AGL is building.

Meanwhile, at home in China, its four 100 MW module production lines in Shanghai are in full operation to meet demand.

A string of research and development centers in Shanghai, Ningbo and Shenzhen, provide a strong base for BYD’s competitiveness going forward. This innovation is flowing into the company’s integrated PV and storage solutions and into new PV panel products, like aluminum back-skin modules optimized for performance in desert environments, where sand storms can be a significant challenge.