Shawn Qu at BNEF Summit Shanghai: ‘A new era for solar PV’


The BNEF Summit Shanghai is taking place virtually this year and yesterday’s opening day featured a prominent panel of leading Chinese PV manufacturers: Kangping Chen, general manager of JinkoSolar; Jifan Gao, chairman of Trina Solar; Shawn Qu, chairman and CEO of Canadian Solar; and Haoping Shen, vice chairman and general manager of Tianjin Zhonghuan Semiconductor. BloombergNEF solar analyst Yali Jiang moderated the session and opened the discussion by noting the surge in module prices this year.

Gao made it clear that the surge in prices caught the industry by surprise and said “We didn’t expect it to happen that module prices would exceed two yuan per Watt ($0.314).” He pointed to a strange paradox impacting the solar PV industry, adding: “Now we are in a paradox: The scale [of production] is bigger and bigger but the price from … upstream increases rapidly. This means a bigger market but not all enterprises benefit. Only [a] few benefit. That is abnormal.” He pointed to polysilicon producers benefiting from 80% gross margins and said that this would quickly lead to a situation of over-supply. He told the audience of a conversation he had had with a leader of a polysilicon materials company who predicted 500 GW of polysilicon production capacity by the end of 2023. Gao summed up the situation as follows: “With the price surge, there will be a price slump.”

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Lower prices from polysilicon producers should ease pressure on module prices, much to the relief of downstream players in the industry, whether in China or overseas markets. Shen, of the wafer manufacturer Tianjin Zhonghuan Semiconductor, expects a 15-20% reduction from current price levels in the second half of next year. Trina’s Gao is more optimistic, and regards it as “very likely” that price declines will happen already in the first half of next year.

Trina Solar’s founder and CEO, Jifan Gao (left) with pv magazine group’s Managing Director, Eckhart Gouras.

Image: pv magazine

Qu cautions that the era of steady price declines for solar modules has come to an end, saying: “The price rebound of polysilicon and component materials marks the beginning of a new era. And this era means that going green and carbon neutrality have a cost. There will be an end to the price drop for solar.” The solar PV industry cannot be expected to keep lowering its costs as the world seeks to decarbonize and wean itself off fossil fuels. Other industries have to make their contribution as well.

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BloombergNEF’s Jiang then steered the conversation to wafer, cell and module technologies and the favorite, at least for the short and medium-term, is TOPCon technology, with both Chen and Gao predicting a massive ramp-up of TOPCon production lines in coming years. Chen put it as follows: “We feel that TOPCon has huge potential.” Shen and Qu were more guarded and highlighted a range of cell and module technologies that promise to further reduce costs and boost efficiencies. Qu even had a surprise up his sleeve when he announced that Canadian Solar would be bringing a 700 Watt module onto the market, based on n-type technology the Sino-Canadian manufacturer has developed. Further details will be revealed in an upcoming official announcement.

The session ended with bullish forecasts on China’s PV market size in 2022 and efforts by Chinese module manufacturers to further reduce the energy payback times of their products. Jinko’s Chen sees China installing 40-45 GW of solar PV this year and then doubling that build in 2022, to 90-100 GW. In terms of energy payback times, Gao offered the scenario of a PV project in northern China where Trina modules produced enough energy in six months to cover the energy used in the upstream manufacturing process. Qu sees “three months or less” by 2028, at least for Canadian Solar, which has pledged to be carbon neutral by that year. High-powered modules like Canadian’s forthcoming 700 MW high-performer should help in this process since, fundamentally, the higher the power rating, the shorter the time period needed to recoup the energy invested in the supply chain to produce the module.

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