Interview: JinkoSolar's Dany Qian talks markets and module innovation

pv magazine: How significant is the Japanese market for JinkoSolar?

Dany Qian: In 2015 we delivered 4.5 GW globally, with 50% growth rate compared to 2014. For Japan specifically, we shipped between 400 and 450 MW. We entered Japan market quite late, setting up an office in Tokyo in 2013. But in the last two or three years, our shipment grows from zero to 450 MW, which is still quite impressive.

How is 2016 shaping up globally for JinkoSolar?

For this year we anticipate shipment of between 6-6.5 GW, which means we will secure the global ranking in No. 2 or at least No. 3.

Are you expecting similar rates of growth in Japan this year?

With the reduction of the FIT, a sharp reduction, it will impact Japan’s market. But we are still optimistic. We recognize this trend, but believe that Japan’s total installation capacity will not shrink significantly this year. FIT will impact ground-mounted utility installations, but will not harm the rooftop market so much. Due to land constraints, utility scale systems are not the perfect solution, which means there is this growing focus on residential and commercial rooftops.

How is JinkoSolar preparing for these impending changes in the Japanese market? Are you looking at innovations in higher efficiency, for example?

We have two approaches. One is technology and products. This year we introduce two new products at PV Expo – the black second wafer cell modules, an all-black poly module that looks like the mono module: black backsheet, black frame, available in 60-cell and 72-cell versions. For the 60-cell the maximum output is 280 watts. The reason for this high efficiency is we used a different edging process at nano-scale. This increases light absorption rates to 99.7%, bringing efficiency up significantly.

The other advantage of this module is its low-light performance. For conventional modules they only absorb light directly from the surface, but this module, with its smaller edging surface, means that all of the light – even in low-light conditions – is absorbed. Performance therefore is good in the morning, early afternoon, under cloudy conditions etc… it is the best solution for the Japanese market due to its geographical location where solar irradiance is not always too high. This is a universal fit for all residential markets, and has been well received in the U.S.

JinkoSolar has recently signed a couple of large partnership deals in the U.S., including a 1 GW supply agreement with sPower, and also partnered with GreenSky in the residential sector. How important is the U.S. market for JinkoSolar this year?

Last year we shipped 1 GW to the U.S. market, and this year the sales goal is 2 GW – half of these orders have already been secured, with contracts for more than 1 GW signed this year. This is an ambitious goal but we are confident that we can meet. The market there is also shifting from utility-scale to residential and commercial, so our strategy is to work with local partners (distributors, large EPCs) to provide high efficiency modules, and also working with financial institutions to provide financial solutions.

How are you supplying the U.S. market bearing in mind the trade barriers that exist?

Our Malaysia operation has already begun supplying the U.S. market. The capacity is 450 MW for cell, and 500 MW module capacity, and so was able to fulfill our U.S. goals for 2015.

What is the situation with Brazil? There have been reports that JinkoSolar had planned to open a manufacturing facility there, but has recently decided not to.

JinkoSolar takes its expansion plans seriously, with long term considerations, especially overseas production expansion. We are keeping an eye on the markets there.

Speaking about risk aversion, is there a danger that the EU and US trade barriers could also spell problems for plants owned by Chinese producers in other countries, such as your Malaysia fab?

We chose Malaysia to set up our first cell plant outside of China was because we think that it has a mature semi-conductor industry there and so has the skillful labors. The local government is also quite supportive of the industry, with a friendly investment environment. Labor costs and taxes are low and infrastructure is mature, so it made sense.

If the EU or U.S. seek new policies to expand trade cases, well, that is something we have to deal with as a Chinese company. No matter where we set up our plants, there is always a risk. But in long term, solar PV will – we hope – sooner or later no longer be dependent on FIT and will be able to self-satisfy its own costs. Every customer wants the freedom of choice of better products and a better price. So any barriers will not restrict the industry in the long term. We cannot say that because of this potential risk we stop developing. We will continue to identify the best locations for us in order to increase our presence.

From the 4.5 GW last year, 300 MW went into Jinko’s own downstream projects. So what is the company’s downstream focus in 2016?

The business model for JinkoSolar is totally different to other Tier-1 solar manufacturers. We are the only such company to have self-owned solar plants. Last year we had, by the end of 2015, around 1 GW of self-owned plants in operation. This business unit brings us good profits. Our long-term corporate strategy is instead of selling solar products, we sell electricity; and at some point in the future, instead of just selling electricity, we sell service.

Are there any particular downstream difficulties in Japan?

The transition from utility scale to residential, and given that we entered this market quite late, we need time to increase brand awareness, and to build up relationships with local distributors – this is our main challenge and focus in Japan for JinkoSolar. We have advantages, however: our high efficiency and reliable modules, for example, and for the poly products we have 280 watts, which are among the most powerful modules in the market. We are also introducing our dual glass and black modules into Japan – these are all ideal solutions for Japan’s residential and commercial installations. We have local sales teams in Tokyo and Osaka, and will increase investments in terms of financial and human resource in Japan in order to meet the local needs.