China: Scaling back ambitions and overhauling PV subsidies

At the PV Project Implementation Conference – China, part of this week’s Solarcon China 2013 in Shanghai, Bohua Wang’s opening address provided the tone for the rest of the conference and the current state of China’s PV industry.

Wang is Secretary-General of the China Photovoltaic Industry Alliance, China’s largest PV industry association. Despite "harsh conditions" in overseas markets, stemming from the trade cases directed at Chinese manufacturers, Wang says she is "cautiously optimistic" this year, due to the newly rolled-out policies by the Chinese government. But instead of confirming China’s official 2013 target for 10 GW of new PV installations, Wang sees 8 GW as a realistic number.

Wang Hai Sheng, Chief Analyst, Minsheng Securities, sees 8 GW as realistic as well, of which 3 GW will comprise Golden Sun projects. These are said to be the most profitable form of solar power project in China, with an internal rate of return of 19.1% (compared to 12% for large-scale ground-mounted plants and just 5.7% for distributed PV).

Wang sees large-scale ground-mounted solar farms contributing 50% of this year’s 8 GW, so 4 GW, and distributed PV contributing only 1 GW to the total.

Clearly, China’s policymakers are running in high gear and distributed PV will most likely be getting a further policy boost later this spring or summer. The subsidy amount remains unclear, but the number in play at the moment is RMB 0.35/kWh, which would supplement the retail rate paid by the user of the electricity, typically a commercial enterprise.

Golden Sun

On the other hand, Wang does not see a bright future for the Golden Sun subsidy program, which provides a generous upfront subsidy to PV projects. According to the Minsheng Securities analyst, "it is very likely that Golden Sun will be cancelled soon."

However, a cancellation does not necessarily mean that Golden Sun will not survive in some shape or form. One possibility is that the upfront subsidy will be replaced by a subsidy over the life of the project, thereby promoting more sustainable PV development and not one focused on the upfront subsidy.

The same can be said of China’s largest PV manufacturer Suntech, which today announced that a petition for insolvency and restructuring was filed against subsidiary Wuxi Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd on March 18 by a group of eight Chinese banks.

On the sidelines of the March 18 conference, organized jointly by Solarpraxis AG and SEMI China, pv magazine spoke to Alex Zhu, Senior Director, Global Product Management, at Suntech, who candidly regards bankruptcy as "a good thing" for Suntech.

Zhu predicts that the Suntech situation will be settled within one month and that a bankruptcy would provide the needed restructuring for the manufacturer to emerge as a leaner more competitive player in the industry.

Healthy and sustainable

According to Bohua Wang, the success of China’s latest policy drive to boost PV at home will depend on "how effectively and how quickly these new policies are implemented." If this is done, Wang sees a "healthy development" of the PV market in China.

A healthy and sustainable development of China’s PV market was the theme of the conference’s second keynote speaker, Walt Cheng of Dupont Electronics & Communications. As managing director, Greater China, of Dupont Electronics & Communications Cheng showed the scale of Dupont’s impact on the global PV industry by stating the fact that about half of the 400 million solar panels installed worldwide so far involve a product manufactured by the American multinational.

The overriding message is not to skimp on quality, but recognize (and pay for) the value offered by materials such as Tedlar to safeguard the long-term performance and reliability of PV power plants.

Junyin Gu, CEO of the Shanghai-based micro-inverter manufacturer Involar Corporation, welcomed the fact that this conference was focused on power plants and grid integration rather than just modules and balance of system (BOS) components as was the norm several years ago at conferences of this kind. The PV industry is maturing and recognizing the fact that it is building power plants, which need to form an integral part of a country’s power grid and energy mix.

Producing "grid friendly" electricity is a big challenge in China and in other markets with a rising share of PV and this topic featured prominently at this conference with two sessions out of five devoted to this issue.

Not far away from Shanghai, neighboring Jiangsu province is collecting large amounts of data on its over thirty mid- and large-sized PV power plants to better understand "power quality" issues and improve the integration of solar into its electricity grid.

Yuan Xiao Dong, Director, Power Quality Bureau of the Jiangsu Electric Power Company (under China’s leading grid company, State Grid Corporation of China), highlighted Jiangsu’s ambitious plans to hit 2 GW in cumulative PV installations by 2015 (at the end of 2012 Jiangsu had installed 450 MW of PV).

China certainly seems determined to promote PV as a key renewable energy and this bodes well for a conference like this one, which aims to promote best practices in large-scale PV projects in China and overseas markets. It was certainly a good start to a full week of conferences and an exhibition at Solarcon China 2013 in Shanghai.

Around 80 PV professionals and executives gathered at this year’s PV Project Implementation Conference – China, part of Solarcon China 2013 in Shanghai, China. This conference is the only event at this year’s Solarcon China to focus on large-scale PV, whether ground-mounted or roof-top. This year’s conference was again organized by Solarpraxis AG, the Berlin-based publisher and conference organizer, and SEMI China, part of the international SEMI network.