Bundles, breaches and loopholes no, not a series of illegal moves in some antiquated 19th Century English private school sport, but alleged underhand activity carried out by three leading Chinese module suppliers in efforts to outmaneuver Europes Minimum Import Price (MIP).
pv magazine learned this week that the European Commission (EC) has proposed removing Canadian Solar, ET Solar and ReneSola from its MIP framework following claims that all three had sought to circumvent measures introduced in 2013 to protect the European solar market.
Should these companies be cast out, they would each have to pay anti-dumping (AD) duties on solar exports to Europe of around 47% on average a financial burden that would likely serve as a complete barrier to the EU market.
The EC found that Canadian Solar had provided "certain benefits" to several customs in efforts to undermine the MIP ruling, benefits that were effectively deducted from the sales price and thus breached the MIP threshold.
ET Solar is alleged to have "bundled" its EPC services as a cut-price extra when bringing modules into the EU, ostensibly selling their modules at MIP but offering below-cost services to account for the difference. The sale of complete solar parks constitutes a parallel sale of all products covered, said the EC.
For ReneSola, the EC reported that the company has been importing cells from third parties through related companies in countries not covered by the MIP. In response to the investigation, ReneSola made the decision a few days later to exit the MIP list, with COE Xianshou Li writing to ReneSola customers: "Following our exit from MIP our primary focus will be on our OEM manufacturing, improving quality, performance and cost. As we will no longer be subject to the ECs review, customers will not be implicated in any investigation [ ] regarding the purchase of our products."
IHS senior solar analyst Ash Sharma told pv magazine that while these allegations have yet to be confirmed, the case does highlight the "rumors and accusations that have surrounded the industry for some time", adding that the suspicion that Chinese suppliers were simply circumventing the ECs MIP measures fairly or unfairly was always strong.
Both ET Solar and Canadian Solar have told pv magazine that they will work with the EC over any potential MIP breaches. There will no doubt be many more updates to come on this story over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
As the EC story was breaking, pv magazine was also informed that customs officials in the Dutch port of Rotterdam had seized a shipment of solar modules that had arrived in Europe from China via Malaysia and Taiwan amid reports that some modules had been re-labeled in an effort to circumvent the MIP ruling.
An estimated 1.2 million worth of modules are to be investigated, from 22 different manufacturers, as Dutch and other European authorities examine paperwork and any possible violation.
REC Solars senior VP Luc Grare told pv magazine that suspicions that such violations against the EU were happening had rumbled on for some time. Its unbelievable that suddenly so many modules from Taiwan are being imported to Europe, especially if you look at the existing capacity there."
This alleged acceleration of Chinese efforts to circumvent the MIP ruling comes ahead of the April 1 MIP review, which is widely expected to recommend an increase in pricing for Chinese solar panels.
Solar as unifier
Amid these unedifying rumors and accusations came a solar story to lift the spirits. The Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) aircraft finally embarked upon its round-the-world solar flight on Monday, taking off from Abu Dhabi for the first, short, 16-hour leg of the journey, landing first in Muscat, Oman, and then on to the western coast of India.
The entire flight is expected to take around five months, with Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg intending to carry the message of hope that clean technologies really can transform the way we think about the world as well as wonder at the possibilities of solar-powered flight. pv magazine wishes them all the success in the world.
Home truths in the UK
Following on from a successful Ecobuild exhibition, the U.K. solar sector continued its maturation this week with a series of reports that suggest the residential and commercial rooftop segments are likely to come to the fore in the next few years.
Firstly, there was confirmation from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that government policy will throw its full weight behind rooftop PV developments at the expense of utility-scale projects, and then the concept of the smart home was also brought into focus an evolution being driven by solar PV.
"Hardware like solar PV continues to decrease in cost, and software is also here," said IBM UK and Ireland executive IT architects for energy and utilities, Erwin Frank-Schultz, with a nod to a growing trend among startups that is set to bring solar and smart energy more closely together.
Over in Northern Ireland, solars slow penetration received a sizeable thrust following the commencement of a 3.6 MW commercial rooftop array for Bombardier. SALIIS Renewables is working with Germanys AmbiVolt Energietechnik to construct the array atop Bombardiers wing-assembly plant in Belfast, and once complete it will be one of the largest solar installations on the entire island north and south.
Australias first floating PV array turned heads this week as construction finally began; data from the U.S. revealed that solar installations grew by 30% in 2014, hitting a record 6.2 GW; Egypt began its long journey to become a "renewable energy powerhouse" for the MENA region, and an intriguing KIT-test found that some battery cells last five times longer than others.