Chinese module suppliers see short-term pain, long-term gain

In spite of recent troubles in the PV industry, many suppliers see the potential growth as very strong, which will help the industry long-term.


I was lucky enough to attend Suntech’s 10th Anniversary Celebrations in Wuxi this week and witnessed first-hand the company’s (and country’s) ambitious plans in the PV industry in future, highlighted by the inauguration of their huge new facility in the city.

Around 500 people gathered at the invite-only event at a nearby hotel and joined in a huge banquet and celebration that included all of Suntech’s senior management as well as customers, partners and just a few people that had nothing to do with the PV industry at all. What really struck me at the event was how positive they all were – amazing considering the current industry conditions and continual bad news that’s hampered the industry almost the whole year.

Suntech Founder and CEO Dr. Zhengrong Shi described the PV market as “being in winter” but was adamant that “spring would arrive soon”. Quite simply the attitude in the huge forum could be summarized as “We know the industry is suffering, but it’s a short-term problem. We know there is too much capacity, but we’ll still need more in future to conquer the industry”.

You could consider this attitude as cavalier, but frankly I found it a refreshing change. Amidst all the doom and gloom surrounding the PV industry as companies see prices and margins plummet, it’s important to look back at what the industry has achieved so far. As I pointed out in my opening presentation at the event’s ‘market forum’, when Suntech entered the PV market in 2001, annual installations were just 350MW. Prices were nearly five times higher and just a handful of suppliers were active. Now in 2011, 10 years on, we’ll likely see installations reach 23GW – 65 times larger than 2001, which has created hundreds of thousands of jobs (and not all of them in China) and allowed prices to fall to a level at which PV is on the brink of the mainstream.

Profile photo of Ash Sharma, senior research director for photovolatics at IMS Research. Courtesy: IMS ResearchSo despite the recent slowdown in demand and the several on-going difficulties the industry is facing, many of the people at the event were still very positive and still extremely ambitious. Many talked about changing China from being a production base for PV, to one for actual PV deployment. Some in fact even suggested China would install 3GW of capacity this year and would not be beaten to the number one spot by the USA in future years. I’m very positive about China’s future deployment plans and the country has certainly changed from just big talk to making real big progress, but even our most optimistic forecasts wouldn’t see 3GW being added to China this year – but I’d happily be proved wrong and I’m sure many others would too!

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