SAN FRANCISCO – Not so long ago, China’s solar industry was at the top of the global renewable energy heap, knocking out millions of solar panels while steadily driving down their price - to the delight of U.S. consumers. For U.S. competitors, of course, it was a different story: squeezed profit margins were driving many U.S. companies out of business or to offshore manufacturing locations like China.
We toured at a big North American solar exhibition here recently and were immediately struck by the sheer number of well-heeled Chinese solar manufacturers exhibiting at the event. But lately there are clear signs that even Chinese solar manufacturers are suffering as their own profit margins have been whittled down to the thickness of a polysilicon wafer.
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Reports out of China indicate that key segments of China’s renewable energy infrastructure like photovoltaic technology are nearing collapse. In August, the head of a Chinese solar company leapt to his death when he realized his company couldn’t pay off a government loan. Other Chinese solar panel manufacturers have recently cut production.
All this as oil futures continue to rise and gasoline prices remain above $5 a gallon in key markets like California.
With trade tensions rising between the U.S. and China, some Chinese vendors at the Inter Solar North American exhibition here also evinced a growing awareness of how the global trade system operates when rival economies are hurting. One Chinese vendor prominently display at its booth a key passage from a U.S. International Trade Administration ruling that the company did not dump solar panels on the U.S. market.
Growing trade tensions between China and the U.S. along with the exodus of solar manufacturing to China have placed solar politics at the forefront in a presidential election year. One of candidate Mitt Romney’s so-called presidential debate “zingers” accuses the Obama administration of surpassing the old GOP saw about “picking between winners and losers” with picking only losers -- a not-so-subtle reference to last year’s Solyndra debacle.
Factors like climate change, the drive for energy independence, access to capital, technological advances and plain-old politics are constantly reshaping renewable energy markets. We offer a snapshot of that market and where it might be headed.
SolFocus' concentrator photovoltaic panels use optics technology to capture sunlight and concentrate it hundreds of times on a solar cell.
Solyndra funding wasn't even loans, but loan guarantees, i.e. insurance. Solyndra had flawed business model, and perhaps the risk was mispriced---but the deal worked as designed. We do understand the need for insurance, and the idea that the insurer can lose on any particular transaction, and only has to come out ahead in the long term?
Solar is the answer, not nuclear. Both Germany and Japan are shutting down nuclear power plants. SCE has decided to forego adding a third reactor at San Onofre and the other two are still shut down. Solar power plants are cheaper to set up and run than ANY alternative, at less than $2 per watt.
Let's analyse things objectively. We should not bring in international politics and turn this topic dirty.
The market wants cheaper and quality solar panels. China is satisfying this demand with competitive cost down with generally acceptable quality. If US can do the same, why not?
Many things today are made in China. We should not perceive China as making low quality products. This is very biased views that you see in Hollywood movies. If you still see things this way, you are very unprofessional.
There are also quality products at reasonable price made in China and if this is what the market is looking for, let the market force decices.
I'm in Manhattan, but no surprise. As mentioned, the last thing ConEd wants to do is build new generating capacity. Anything they can do to promote more efficient usage of what they already generate is a no-brainer yes notion.
Solar can be cost competitive in some areas and applications.
But despite the advantages posed by nuclear power, it will have problems simply because it *is* nuclear power, and there is a huge amount of entrenched resistance to the notion, and an awful lot of ignorance about the safety of nuclear power. (The Fukashima reactor disaster in Japan did not help, even if the real lesson is that Fukashima was set up wrong to begin with.)
The problem for the operators is that they are generally regulated utilities. The sorts of upgrades required cost a lot of money, and the money will have to come out of the prices charged for power.
Getting regulator approval to make the upgrades, permit the bond issues needed to finance it, and raise the rates to pay for it will be very difficult and a political nightmare.
It will cost a lot of money, and everyone will say someone *else* should pay for it.
Things like that are a major reason why ConEd in NYC is pushing conservation and energy efficiency as hard as they can. The last thing they want to do is build new generating capacity because of all the problems involved in doing it.
I'd call that stupid, all told.
The net effect is to drive up the cost of photovoltaic installations and slow the growth of photovoltaic use.
From where I sit, the opportunities for US businesses are in sales, installation, and support, and the cheaper the components are that they build solar installations out of, the better a price they can offer and the faster they will grow.
Let the Chinese plants that failed to correctly forecast demand go bust turning out panels they can only sell below cost. That's an *opportunity* for US outfits installing photovoltaics, because they can get the parts cheap.
Yep, they are, and investment by the government may not be really relevant. The same problems would occur if they were doing things entirely with private capital. In any new market like this, a bunch of people will jump in seeing an opportunity, but some will fail and go under or be acquired.
We've seen the pattern over and over here, as markets shake down till there are a few dominant supplies and a batch of smaller niche players. The Chinese official quoted unhappy at the prospect that 2/3s of the current Chinese suppliers will go belly up arguably should not be - it's simply the way the markets work, and the ones that survive will be better for the experience.
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