Debate rages over thin film vs crystalline product definition

One of the thorniest arguments which raged during the Indian ministry of commerce’s anti-dumping (AD) investigation into cells and modules manufactured in China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the U.S., concerned whether thin film products should be considered ‘like products’ to crystalline ones and thus also subject to duties.

Investigators decided both types of cells were comparable in physical and chemical charactersitics, manufacturing process and technology, final functions and uses, product specifications, pricing, distribution and marketing and tariff classifiction.

Opponents to the inclusion of thin film alongside crystalline cells in the probe cited the fact the former technology was not included in similar investigations into the dumping of Chinese products into the EU and the U.S., with original complainants Indosolar, Jupiter Solar and Websol Energy System – later the Solar Manufacturers’ Association – pointing out the complainants in those two cases had not requested the inclusion of thin film.

In the document announcing the final findings of the investigation, published on Thursday, ministry of commerce officials pointed out the EU investigation had not included thin film because of what it decreed the ‘marginal’ competition the technology offered in Europe because of its low take-up in comparison to more efficient crystalline products.

Ministry officials argued convincingly that, with around 25% of solar products imported during the period investigated – 2011 and the first half of 2012 – using thin film technology, the situation was different in India. The complainants quoted ministry of new and renewable energy figures showing thin film made up 51% of the products used in the first batch of the second phase of the national Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), rising to 78% in the second batch, and compared to thin film usage of around 15% worldwide, to rubbish unlikely claims thin film should be excluded because crystalline products were preferred in India.

However the ministry acknowledged a finding by the U.S. International Trade Commision (ITC) the differences between thin film and crystalline products were more significant than the similarities and argued rather less convincingly, the situation differs in India because ‘consumers perceive both the products are similar and find them perfect substitutes,’ before adding the imposition of AD duties on just one type of technology would be ‘futile’ as it would open back door entries for the other technology.

Officials accepted India could not be said to have a thin film manufacturing capacity, refusing to class Moser Baer as a thin film producer because its small manufacturing capacity was significantly outweighed by the scale of its imports of such products. But, officials added, since the two technologies were classed as like products, the argument was irrelevant.

The argument thin film should be excluded because such modules cannot replace crystalline ones on an individual basis was also given short shrift, officials pointing out, at a project development and commissioning level, the two technologies were competing at a similar price and both could be used – on different lines – on the same projects.

A claim Indian modules were of poorer quality and offered inferior warranties was ignored with officials stating no evidence had been brought forward to substantiate the charge.

And investigators took a swipe at the attempts of Chinese respondents to exclude thin film by pointing out the Chinese had cogently, if unsuccessfully, petitioned the U.S. ITC to go the other way and include thin film products in their probe.

Various arguments that modules should be excluded from the investigation because, as a value added product, they differ from cells, cut no ice with investigators, who decided modules were ‘nothing but a packaged, connected assembly of solar cells.’