SNEC: "Solar Leaders Dialogue" dominated by EU-China trade dispute

Yesterday’s Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association (APIVIA) Day at the SNEC 7th (2013) International PV Power Generation Conference in Shanghai, China, featured a high-level "Solar Leaders Dialogue" between representatives of the Chinese, American and European solar power industries.

The dialogue was dominated by the EU Commission’s investigation of the Chinese photovoltaic industry and the threatened 47% to 68% anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese silicon-based cells, wafers and modules.

Already confronted by overcapacity and as a result, an extended period of dropping prices and margins, the looming EU tariffs promise to make a long "winter" in the Chinese solar industry even longer. Trina Solar’s chairman and CEO Jifan Gao offered an apology to Trina Solar’s shareholders and others who have supported this top-tier brand, saying that he felt "ashamed" by the poor results his company and other Chinese module manufacturers had achieved.

For Gao the overriding question and imperative for the industry is "how to achieve sustainable growth?" According to Gao, a key part of the solution is industry consolidation and a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) drive to bring down overcapacity and further streamline the industry.

A more upbeat assessment of the state of the industry was given by Dr. Wang Jin, director at Institute of International Energy, International Cooperation Center at China’s top economic planning authority NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission), who sees this crisis as an opportunity for the Chinese market to focus inward and further drive the domestic market, which offers plenty of potential.

Moreover, he expects that the Chinese photovoltaic installation target of 10 GW for this year will be met. He also believes that distributed photovoltaic energy will play an increasingly important role. Of the 10 GW he expects roughly 50% to be ground-mounted and the other 50% to be distributed roof-top PV. Jin said: "Once a commercial case for distributed PV is established, the full industrial potential will be realized."

Not the desired effect

With respect to the opinion of the American solar industry representatives participating at the Solar Leaders Dialogue, the consensus was that the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs the U.S. had imposed on Chinese solar manufacturers had not had the desired effect. Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, went even further and described the track record of trade tariffs in any industry as a "100% failure" and called on politicians in his home country to abolish all subsidies flowing to the conventional and renewable energy sectors.

According to Broome, the big beneficiaries of such subsidies are not solar and other renewables but conventional energy suppliers. The American coal industry, for example, takes in a whopping $8.5 billion in subsidies annually according to Broome.

In addition, John Smirnow, Vice President of Trade & Competitiveness at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said that U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar products had "no significant effect" on the U.S. market and that "panel prices continued to fall".

On the other hand, the broadened scope of the EU investigation, which included wafers, cells and modules, did not offer the fairly easy workaround available in the U.S. of using other countries’ wafers and cells to escape these tariffs. Like Dr. Murray Cameron of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), Smirnow called on the governments in the EU and China to utilize available World Trade Organization (WTO) "negotiation and collaboration rules" and not just litigation to address this conflict.

300 GW initiative

Finally, Karl-Heinz Remmers, CEO of Solarpraxis AG, the publisher of pv magazine, highlighted his company’s 300 GW initiative as an effort to show that photovoltaics could become a "pillar of the world’s energy supply" instead of being just a niche renewable energy market.

In order to achieve this, Remmers pointed out the need to come up with "solutions" that addressed specific demands in the market, which could mean a storage component or the combination with other renewable energy sources; or even the integration with e-mobility or other innovative technologies.

He called on industry participants to show confidence and see photovoltaic energy as a "future mainstream energy solution" rather than "some sort of subsidized product."

The ingredients to get there seem to be there already and as Walt Cheng, managing director of DuPont Electronics and Communications, Greater China, remarked, what is needed is an integrated approach where the "strengths of different regions" around the world are utilized rather than cross-border confrontation and protectionism.

Edited by Vera von Kreutzbruck.