SNEC: Trade case uncertainty further depresses investment

Sentiments have remained subdued on the final day of the SNEC tradeshow. A lack of upstream investment has been widely commented on, and manufacturers face challenges in terms of maintaining cash flow. As wet and windy weather rolled into Shangahi, the EU photovoltaic trade dispute has further dampened the mood.

JA Solar COO Jian Xie said that uncertainty over the nature, scope and timeline of potential EU tariffs on Chinese photovoltaic modules is proving to be a major impediment to business development. Xie indicated that it would be far better for manufacturers to know the outcome of the trade dispute sooner, so that they take steps to handle the measures.

Manufacturers do have the ability to put strategies in place to cope with tariffs, said Xie, however they are unable to do so without clarity as to whether the tariffs will apply to wafers, cells or modules. The level of the tariffs and the process for implementation would also be vital information, he added.

Exactly what strategies the various companies employ will naturally depend on the nature of their business and company structure. JA Solar’s Xie told pv magazine that the European market comprises only 30% of the company’s sales and, because of this, it is unlikely the Chinese manufacturer would purchase facilities in Europe.

OEM production, product licensing and outsourcing by contrast, would be a better fit for the firm. Increasing JA Solar’s focus on developing markets, said Xie, would also likely occur.

Markets

The European market remains very important for tier two Chinese manufacturer CSun, which had a production capacity of 400 MW in 2012. In that year, CSun registered 71% of its sales in Europe.

The company has completed construction on a 150 MW cell and module line in Turkey and therefore is relatively well positioned if hefty EU tariffs are to be imposed on Chinese modules. While the fab was initially planned to supply the emerging Turkey market, its future in the event of EU tariffs would appear assured.

The growing size and importance of the emerging Asian markets was also on display at SNEC, with large numbers of attendees from countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Global mounting system market leader Schletter, which has operated production facilities in Shanghai since 2010, told pv magazine that its main benefit in having a hub in China is that it provides easy market access to the emerging Asian markets.

Schletter reported that its growing business in these countries is more attractive for the firm than the delivery of products for utility-scale projects in China, where margins have been squeezed.

Declining numbers

While the final figures for attendees at the SNEC exhibition are not yet available, the show was significantly smaller than in previous years and attendees fewer. In 2012, 17 tradeshow halls of the Shanghai New International Expo Center were utilized for the SNEC, however this year only 14 halls were open. Empty spaces in several of the halls were also conspicuous.

Intersolar Europe will take place in mid-June and it remains to be seen whether the relatively dour mood of SNEC will prevail at Europe’s leading photovoltaic tradeshow. By then at least, a clear decision regarding the nature and extent of EU photovoltaic tariffs should have been made.