Phono Solar: Module factories in the US and South America on the horizon

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As Wu makes clear in the interview, SUMEC is also a major trading company with significant volumes in a wide range of products. For example, its trading volume in aluminum products amounts to an impressive 8 million tons annually. Using its strong balance sheet and relationships on the trading side, as well as its R&D and product development expertise, SUMEC and Phono Solar can craft the right solutions to meet demand in particular markets.

For example, Phono Solar has partnered with Panasonic in Japan to provide an integrated PV solution to the market, involving its state-of-the-art high-efficiency modules and racking supplied by a local Japanese manufacturer. On the battery storage front, Phono Solar can leverage strong relationships with Chinese battery manufacturers to deliver PV+storage solutions to fit local requirements. These Chinese battery manufacturers deliver quality components and Phono Solar adds the BMS and EMS capabilities to fit the needs of the specific market it is addressing.

Wu also believes in the trend to localize module manufacturing. The company already operates module fabs in Turkey (500 MW) and Vietnam (500 MW), which complement its main 1 GW production base in mainland China. Interestingly, both of these satellite plants are on opposite ends of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to create a modern-day Silk Road to spur investment in a vast area from Southeast Asia all the way to Africa and the Mediterranean. Wu mentions the Belt and Road sphere as being at the center of Phono Solar’s EPC activities, with countries such as Pakistan and Vietnam representing major markets.

Increasingly, this work is becoming “EPC management,” with Phono Solar focusing on the management part and subcontracting lower-level EPC work to local subcontractors. This results in lower costs, while maintaining Phono Solar’s high-quality standards. High quality is also the name of the game on the module side of its business, with a broad range of high-efficiency products, including metal wrap-through (MWT) panels, which will represent about 10% of the manufacturer’s module shipments this year.

Half-cut and multi-busbar (MBB) products are also offered, with MBB modules having recently cleared the certification stage. The team at Phono Solar is also a believer in black silicon PERC poly modules and Wu sees efficiencies of 20 to 20.5% offering good value in this product category.

In terms of geographic markets, Wu is excited by the potential offered by Europe and points to the important role European players have in other markets such as Africa and Latin America. He is also a fan of the U.S. market, despite the trade barriers the U.S. administration has imposed. In fact, Phono Solar is scouting possible panel production opportunities in the United States, including the acquisition of an existing factory. The same goes for South America, where the company is scrutinizing opportunities in Brazil and in a free zone in neighboring Uruguay. As Wu explains it, in Latin America “demand has picked up dramatically in the last six to 12 months.”

As 2019 unfolds we will be keeping an eye on Phono Solar’s production deployments in the Americas, as well as its module, PV solutions and EPC business in other parts of the world. Armed with its first-class bankability and its web of industrial relationships, we can expect a news-filled 2019 for this Chinese manufacturer.