SPI: 'Times for solar have never been better'


Jesse Pichel of Roth Capital Partners was teeming with optimism at a symposium sponsored by the U.S. investment bank at the SPI: "The times for solar have never been better," Pichel stressed.

He backed up his statement with a number of examples in an interview with pv magazine: The publically listed PV companies are nearly all well positioned and earning money again. The Chinese and Taiwanese module and cell manufacturers in particular are currently producing at full capacity. Unlike previous years, they are no longer investing in excessive capacity expansion, but rather in downstream activities and setting a solid course in the process. Current demand remains high, driven by Japan, China and the United States.

Pichel sees the industry’s incipient growth much more sustainable than in previous years because cost reductions have made solar power far less dependent on subsidies.

He also sees a strong increase in environmental awareness in many major markets, such as Japan and China. In addition, many international banks, including U.S. institutions, are increasingly recognizing the value of photovoltaics. Pichel says there is a growing credit market in the United States for PV investments in addition to the increasing importance of leasing companies in the residential sector.

The various companies that spoke with pv magazine at the trade show on Wednesday also confirmed the upbeat picture. Jinko Solar’s U.S. division expects a fourfold increase in revenue this year compared to 2012, according to Nigel J. Cockroft, Jinko Solar’s general manager in the U.S. Likewise, Henry K. Yun, vice president of corporate planning at Hanwha QCELLS USA, reported a "strong growth and profitable" EPC business. Stefan Müller, COO of Enerparc, sees the U.S. as one of the "most important sustainable growth markets" despite the still high "soft costs," such as long approval times, bureaucracy and high labor costs during installation.

Paul Nahi, CEO of Enphase, also expressed confidence. The micro inverter manufacturer is expanding its business in the U.S., even in the commercial sector. The move has been showing results. In the last few days a large-scale 3 MW plant equipped with Enphase micro inverters went online in the United States for the first time.

LG presented in Chicago for the first time a prototype of an AC module with an integrated micro-inverter. Marketing manager Joseph Park is optimistic that the Korean company in the coming year will further expand its market share in the U.S. residential area from a current 10%. This year, the company will likely increase its sales in the U.S. by some 10% to 110 MW. "We’ll be sold out by the end of November," Park said.

Chinese module manufacturer ZnShine Solar is likewise looking to expand its presence and distribution network in the U.S., reported Stuart Brannigan, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. In the coming year the group will introduce to the market a PV system jointly developed with a Japanese manufacturer that employs optimized electronics and boasts 20% higher relative efficiency. Brannigan sees excellent sales opportunities for the product in the U.S.