Around one tenth of all production capacity of Chinese solar manufacturers will be located in overseas facilities by the end of this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
As leading producers from China seek ways to dodge and circumnavigate stinging trade duties applied by the U.S. and the European Union (EU) in the wake of anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing investigations, BNEF forecasts that some 5.3 GW of solar cell capacity will exist beyond Chinese shores at the close of 2015.
Many of the largest Chinese solar companies have already added production capacity in neighboring Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, pouring billions of dollars into these new ventures to be able to continue supplying the lucrative U.S. and European markets.
In May, leading Chinese solar company Trina Solar confirmed that it is to build a 700 MW cell and 500 MW module production facility in Thailand, while JinkoSolars Malaysian factory will end 2015 with a cell and module production capacity of 950 MW.
"Products from our Malaysian plant will be mainly exported to the U.S., but were eyeing global demand," Sebastian Liu, JinkoSolars director of investor relations, told Bloomberg. "This isnt temporary. JinkoSolar wants global manufacturing to avoid the risks posed by a single production line."
Chinas dominance of the solar panel production landscape the country has capacity of 65 GW and makes seven out of ten solar panels globally each year has long caused concern in the markets of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. Many Chinese companies are state-backed and have been accused of deliberately undercutting their rivals on price and causing a global glut of modules.
Recent and ongoing trade disputes have resulted in the imposition of severe tax duties on solar products entering the EU and U.S. from China, and the European Commission (EC) in May confirmed it is to initiate a widening of the investigation to cover solar products exported to the EU by Chinese suppliers via Malaysia and Taiwan. The U.S. is also working on a draft to amend its trade duties to include any solar product assembled in China, regardless of where the original components were produced.
However, the threat of a wider investigation does not appear to have deterred most leading Chinese solar companies. According to BNEF, more than 50% of future solar panel production capacity will be added in Southeast Asian nations, which prove both economically and logistically attractive to Chinese companies.
Elsewhere in the region, notably India, growing local demand is also proving attractive to Chinese solar companies. Trina Solar will spend $500 million investing in a solar production plant in the country in collaboration with local company Welspun Energy. The plan is to tap into a market set to boom following Prime Minister Narendra Modis 100 GW of solar by 2022 goal.
According to IHSs Ash Sharma, this trend is likely to continue for a good while yet. "Manufacturing outside China can be more cost effective," the analyst told Bloomberg.
Writing for pv magazine, Solarpraxis CEO Karl-Heinz Remmers queried recently just how robust Chinese domestic manufacturing can remain, musing: "It seems clear that many of the early mover Chinese companies dont have a lot of state-of-the-art manufacturing cell and module equipment everybody has to update, update, update to stay alive. But with debts that have gone crazy, its not possible to fund these operations which we have seen with LDK and Suntech in China."
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