As the leader of TBEA’s renewable energy division, how would you explain the current state of the PV industry and future outlook, since you first got involved 20 years ago?
Since the promulgation and implementation of China’s Renewable Energy Law of 2006, 14 years has passed. During these years, the solar photovoltaic industry has rapidly grown into a pillar of the world renewable energy industry. Fourteen years may be a short time in industrial history, but within this fugacious time period, China achieved great progress in the development of photovoltaic technology and stepped to the top of the world for the industry. With many people’s efforts and contributions, an entire industry, market, and supporting framework environment were established from zero.
Facing pressure to continuously reduce costs, the PV industry is still full of competition and with challenges in profitability. However, we believe the overall environment for a rapid and sustainable development of the industry has been established, and the future prospect for this industry is bright.
What are the trends you are seeing for inverter products?
We see two obvious trends. The first is pertaining to the voltage of photovoltaic plants, shifting from 1,000 V to a higher 1,500 V requires 1,500 V inverters to support. Higher voltage can improve the inverter power density and reduce system costs correspondingly.
The second growing trend is that the role of inverters have evolved, from adapting to the grid to supporting the grid. Working in conjunction with storage, and also with active safety protections through arc monitoring and string IV scanning, inverters can be highly integrated with transformers and switch cabinets. They are constructing a support center for grid safety.
In addition to the inverter business, what other products and solutions does Sunoasis now provide to its customers?
We have already developed the world’s largest string inverter with a power of 225 kW, which has been utilized not only in the Chinese market, but also overseas markets such as India, Europe, and others. This product uses a cost optimization design, and integrates AI and smart diagnosis technology to achieve an LCOE that is 3% lower in general. This has received wide acclaim from our customers.
We also developed the TB-eCloud, our own smart operation and maintenance online platform, based on advanced technologies including big data, cloud computing, and AI. With this platform, the O&M efficiency can be raised by 10%, power generation be increased by 2%, and LCOE dropped by 4%. We have already 5 GW solar PV and wind power projects connected to and running on this platform.
In the field of power transmission, we have developed the new generation of medium and high voltage water-cooled TSVG, which significantly reduces power generation loss. In power distribution, we invented the world’s first power router with efficiency up to 98.2%.
This power router has been utilized in several model projects in the Guangdong province of China. We have also established our own digital engineering design platform which integrated resource evaluation, 3D design, engineering simulation, and intelligent transferring. This makes the design and construction process of power plant more standardized, with higher efficiency and better quality.
When did TBEA Sunoasis start to explore overseas markets? And what is the status of overseas business?
We started our international market expansion in 2014, mainly focused on the inverter business. Our first step was in the India market, and then we turned to Southeastern Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and onwards. Now we have customers in dozens of countries including Malaysia, Australia, Pakistan, Algeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Chile, Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia. Our 100 MW photovoltaic project in Punjab, Pakistan, that has a total capacity of 900 MW, was the largest single solar power generation project in the world at the time of installation. In two years, the cumulative power generation is approximately 630-million kWh, which meets the demand of nearly 280,000 households, and alleviates the power shortage in Pakistan. It was the first One Belt One Road project to be completed in the Sino Pakistani economic corridor, and the first grid-connected generation project to obtain electricity charges from Pakistan.
Among all these countries in which we already have penetration, we have several key strategic target markets, including India, Vietnam, Australia, Thailand and Bangladesh. The Middle East and European markets are also key markets where we will take more efforts on.
What is key to expanding in overseas markets, and what have been the challenges in your path to internationalization?
Product is critical in the way to overseas markets. When we first entered into the Indian market, it was our excellent products that gained the trust of our customers and made us one of the best-sold inverter brands of this market. A long-term, stable strategy is also important when establishing business relationships with local partners and customers in the EPC business. In the Middle East, we spent a lot of time and effort in deepening relationships with local partners and customers and just last year it started to pay off.
However, we also learned the high risk of the internationalization process. We are trying to establish a system which is more suitable for international engineering management. And also the localization of workforce is also being pushed. Just like Rome wasn’t built overnight, internationalization is not something easy to achieve – but we are on our way.
What is TBEA Sunoasis’ approach to Research and Development?
TBEA has always attached great importance to R&D, with annual investment accounting for more than 5% of sales revenue. We maintain that the products’ development strategy integrates pre-research for cutting-edge technology, research for mainstream technology, and production of mature technologies. We have gathered a strong group of R&D talent, with many of them holding doctorates degrees from top universities of China such as Tsinghua University, Xian Jiaotong University, etc. Currently, 21% of the company’s personnel have master's degrees or higher, and the company has set up a postdoctoral workstation with two people. A complete research system was built and with an efficient experimental platform, our R&D team has worked with top China universities and institutes to keep our innovation in the lead.
The Covid-19 epidemic has impacted the entire world. How do you view the global PV industry under the disease? What are Sunoasis’ response strategies?
The Covid-19 pandemic is an unexpected “Black Swan.” However, we are now in an era of innovation and change. Just like big data, cloud computing and AI, which is changing the traditional energy industry fast – these new technologies include advanced communication and collaboration technologies make remote work more efficient than ever before. We are constantly applying new technical means to respond to external changes – so as to meet needs of both customers and organizational development.
Where do you see the future of the industry market and for TBEA?
Grid parity of solar PV is very close to becoming a reality in 2020, but the last step relies greatly on technical innovation. The traditional competitive strategy, relying on scale advantage, needs to give way to a new strategy, relying on technological innovation. The inverter will take a more central and driving role in the future of PV systems, changing from a traditional part to a more digitized and intellectualized central component to better integrate storage, smart operations and maintenance, and grid stability support.
TBEA is ready to dig deeper in the renewable energy field and make continuous efforts to achieve our vision of becoming a global outstanding green smart energy service provider.
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