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Solar Tech Industry Rises in East Asia

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2010
Caren B. Les, News Editor,

The People’s Republic of China is home to one-third of the world’s solar manufacturing capacity, according to a study by the Breakthrough Institute of Oakland, Calif., and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation of Washington, organizations that track American policy and technology trends. Titled Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant and published in November 2009, the report compares public investments by the US and key Asian countries in clean energy technologies such as solar, wind and nuclear power. It notes that, over the next five years, the governments of China, Japan and South Korea plan to invest a total of $509 billion in domestic clean technology, while the US government will likely invest $172 billion over the period.

Dongguan Quoncion Solar Energy Lighting Co. Ltd. of Dongguan City in Guangdong Province, China, produces photovoltaic (PV) monocrystalline and multicrystalline modules from 1 to 300 W. The company is planning to construct a solar-power industrial park in JiangXi Province and is enlarging its factory in Henan Province this year, according to Sue Zhong, the company’s sales manager.

“The year 2009 was an important one for the solar market in China,” Zhong said. She noted that China’s solar feed-in tariff support system, launched by the government, is helping to propel the domestic PV industry. The system, which has attracted worldwide attention to the solar industry, has provided China with new opportunities for growth. Zhong commented that the global financial downturn led to a decline in the solar feed-in tariff support systems in the main European market, but that the refund system was on the rise in other countries.

Connecting to the grid

Feed-in tariffs, also known as serial refund systems, are policies that typically guarantee renewable electricity generators a long-term performance-based payment at a premium price and interconnection to the grid (i.e., the right to “feed in” electricity). The practice is explained in the white paper Advancing a Sustainable Solar Future: SEMI PV Group Policy Principles and Recommended Best Practices for Solar Feed-in Tariffs, published in 2009 by the SEMI trade association. Basically, under such a tariff, a regional or national electric utility is obligated to buy electricity generated from renewable sources from all eligible participants.

PV Group noted that approximately 80 percent of the world’s PV demand has come from markets supported by feed-in tariffs. SEMI supports the development of feed-in tariffs around the world as an effective means to ensure sustained growth for the PV industry, and its white paper notes that recent feed-in tariff policy development activity in China, India, Japan and Taiwan has set the stage for possible significant PV market growth during the next few years.

Ross Young, senior vice president of photovoltaics and displays at IMS Research in Wellingborough, UK, a market research firm that follows the electronics industry, predicts that 2010 will be tremendous for the solar industry. He writes in his article titled PV Market Enjoys Strong Rebound in Q3 ’09 that numerous factors will be catalysts, including lower prices, impending changes to tariffs and growth in subsidy efforts. He noted that in China, the regulatory and approval processes are in place to implement the country’s rooftop, power plant and feed-in tariff programs, a situation that should result in rapid growth. In Japan, feed-in tariffs are expected to be introduced, although the subsidies for residential and nonresidential PV technology have already led to significant growth. In South Korea, a 32 percent increase to a market cap of 132 MW should lead to a strong year, according to Ross.

“Solar energy is undoubtedly a market with a huge growth potential in China. At present, the technology level and know-how in China are still behind that of the Western countries,” said Lixin Ren, managing director at Semikron (Hong Kong) Co. Ltd., an international power semiconductor manufacturer. He added that Semikron puts strong emphasis on the solar energy market and aims to bring high-end, innovative and reliable technology to the solar inverter market in China, while at the same time providing individualized service to customers.

Growth and innovation

Satcon Technology Corp., a Boston-based provider of utility-scale power solutions for the renewable energy market, has delivered 23 MW of its PowerGate Plus 500-kW solar PV inverters to GCL Solar Limited for its 20-MW Jiming Hill Xunzhou solar plant and its 3-MW Yancheng Guoneng rooftop installation. These two installations – technological breakthroughs in project construction and technology innovation – demonstrate China’s increasing demand for utility-scale renewable power production and its commitment to large-scale solar innovation, said Gu Huamin, general manager of GCL Solar.

In January 2010, Yingli Green Energy Holding Company Ltd., a vertically integrated PV product manufacturer based in Baoding, China, announced that the Ministry of Science and Technology in China has approved its application to be the first national-level laboratory in the field of PV technology development, at its base plant. The State Key Laboratory will aim to drive the Chinese development of world-class PV technology in China, said the company, which will have priority rights to commercialize technologies developed in the laboratory. Yingli Green Energy sells its PV modules to systems integrators and distributors in various markets around the world.

In Japan, Showa Shell Sekiyu KK and its subsidiary Showa Shell Solar KK, based in Tokyo, are expected to start construction next year on a 900-MW copper indium gallium selenide factory in Miyazaki; Sharp Corp., based in Osaka, plans to ramp up its 480-MW thin-film line in Sakai by March 2010, producing triple-junction a-Si modules at 10 percent efficiency, according to the Q4 ’09 Quarterly PV Cell Capacity Database & Trends Report from DisplaySearch, based in Austin, Texas.

Overall in the industry, solar cell capacity growth is expected to slow somewhat in 2010 and 2011 as demand starts catching up to capacity, according to DisplaySearch. The report notes that the 2009 solar cell capacity rankings for manufacturers First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz.; Suntech Power of Wuxi, China; Sharp Corp.; and Q-Cells SE of Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany, were 1092, 950, 870 and 836 MW, respectively.

Development and challenges

Published in September 2009, a report titled China PV Market Development from GTM Research, a Greentech Media company based in Cambridge, Mass., states that since 2002, China’s solar cell and module manufacturers have exported more than 95 percent of their products to countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy and the US, enabling the country to become a top global solar cell producer. In 2008, in response to the worldwide economic crisis, China scaled back this export capacity and considered national solar incentives to support the solar manufacturing industry.

“Ultimately, the Chinese power sector wants solar electricity generation costs to approach those of wind and, later, coal. As evidenced with its policies in the wind sector, the Chinese government pushes for high amounts of installed capacity, with the long-term goal of bringing down high capital costs. Newly installed solar PV capacity will face challenges such as a lack of standard interconnection procedure across grid regions and general lack of experience on the side of developers. The development model supports domestic manufacturers and domestic economic growth,” according to the report from GTM Research.

Concentrating solar power

Based in Pasadena, Calif., eSolar, a global supplier of concentrating solar power plants, and China Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing Co. Ltd., a privately owned company based in Penglai, Shandong, China, announced in January 2010 a master licensing agreement to build at least 2 GW of solar thermal power plants in China over the next 10 years. The plants will be collocated with biomass electricity generation facilities to work in tandem with the solar power plants. In total, the companies say the plants will eliminate 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The deal represents the country’s first foray into concentrating solar power. The technology uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. The thermal energy is then used to produce electricity via a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator.

PV manufacturing equipment

The world market for PV manufacturing equipment is projected to exceed $9 billion in 2013, according to IMS Research. The company added that Asia, and in particular China, is expected to be a key growth driver in the PV manufacturing equipment market and to account for more than half of the revenues in that sector through to 2013. Equipment suppliers are expected to take advantage of the region’s lower labor costs and, because equipment users are increasingly based in Asia, shipping costs will be reduced.

As noted in The China Post, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. in Taipei announced in December 2009 that it will pay about 6.2 billion NT for a 17 percent stake in Motech Industries Inc., a large solar cell manufacturer also based in Taipei.

Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration is also looking into the possibility of building “photonic greenhouses” as part of an effort to promote the development of renewable energy. It is suggested that the greenhouses, which would use thin-film solar cell panelsinstalled on the roofs of facilities, could possibly provide power for local regions and be used to raise cash crops such as orchids.

a Greentech Media CompanyAsiaPhotonicsbiomass electricity generationBreakthrough InstituteCaren B. LesChinaChina PV Market DevelopmentChina Shandong Penglai Electric Power Equipment Manufacturing Co.clean energyconcentrating solar powerConsumerDisplaySearchDongguan Quoncion Solar Energy Lighting Co. Ltd.energyeSolarfeed-in tariffFirst SolarGCL Solar Ltd.GTM ResearchGu HuaminIMS ResearchindustrialInformation Technology and Renovation FoundationJapanLixen Renphotonic greenhousesphotovoltaic industryPV manufacturing equipmentPV Market Enjoys Strong Rebound in Q3 09Q-CellsQ4 09 Quarterly PV Cell Capacity Database & Trends ReportRising Tigers Sleeping GiantRoss YoungSatcon Technology Corp.SEMI PV GroupSemikron (Hong Kong) Co. Ltd.Sharp Corp.Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K.Showa Shell Solar K.K.Solar Energysolar energy marketSolar Technologysolar thermal power plantsSouth KoreaState Key LaboratorySue ZhongSuntch PowerTaiwanTaiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.The China PostYingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd.

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