China: Pushing for PV consolidation

A packed audience of around 130 gathered together in Shanghai yesterday, October 30, to hear a range of presentations on the photovoltaic industry in China, including on quality issues and module technology.

By all accounts, the first of two days of conference workshops was well received, with updates on China’s plans to expand its domestic photovoltaic market provided by Gao Hu, Deputy Director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Qin Haiyan, General Director of China General Certification Center (CGC) and Wang Sicheng also of CGC.

It was reported that China’s central government is pushing for domestic photovoltaic consolidation, due to the current manufacturing situation, which is seeing domestic (and international) companies bleeding money on the back of current price levels.

However, it became clear during the conference that many were unsure how this consolidation is meant to proceed. One proposal has the central government issuing a list of top manufacturers, but some participants said they were skeptical of such a top-down push to promote certain suppliers and not others.

Meanwhile, supporting NPD Solarbuzz’s recent research, CGC’s Wang Sicheng said that distributed photovoltaics is gaining significance in China. Sicheng elaborated on the government’s new 20 GW solar targets for 2015 by stating that 50% will be comprised of distributed photovoltaic projects close to the country’s demand centers in eastern China, and 50% large-scale projects in western China, which has better irradiation.

Balancing "cost control" and "quality control" was another key theme of the three conference sessions. As CGC’s Wang pointed out, the severe photovoltaic module price decreases to levels as low as RMB 3 (around €0.37; US$0.48) for regular Chinese manufacturers, and RMB 3.77 for leading Chinese manufacturers is based partly on the erosion in polysilicon prices to a level of US$22/kg.

Yingli Green Energy’s CTO, Dengyuan Song went on to stress that "quality is the key to building your core competitiveness." The quality theme was elaborated in sessions devoted to photovoltaic materials and components. This included interesting proposals to launch a PV Glass Consortium and "PV ready glass" by Ivan Sinicco, head of development at Oerlikon Solar, as well as the latest PV materials’ insights by Oakland Fu of DuPont and Lewis Pan of 3M.

There was also great interest and discussion regarding the final presentation by photovoltaic storage specialist Shanghai GMDE. Shanghai GMDE’s technical director, Jianduo Li admitted that "battery technology has had no big breakthrough in the last three decades" and that battery life is warrantied for at best 15 years, unlike 20 or more years for modules. Despite these shortcomings, the conference participants expect significant improvements in photovoltaic storage solutions in the next several years.

Regarding China’s photovoltaic market, there were opinions at the conference that the country is on its way to surpassing Germany in terms of market size. As Qin Haiyan of CGC pointed out, China surprised many observers by quickly becoming the world’s biggest wind market and he expects China’s photovoltaic market to follow suit.