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A New Chapter Begins for Asian Solar
Author:管理员 Published:2011,12.8, Browse: 2404

Editor’s Note: November 1, 2011, marked the opening of the PV Asia Pacific Expo at the Marina Bay Sands convention center Singapore. The event, which be held until November 3, was kicked off with the announcement that Suntech’s founder and CEO has been appointed the new the chief chairman of APVIA. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s solar importance has been highlighted.

Solar darling

"APVIA's [Asian Photovoltaic Industry Association’s] goal is to increase investment into photovoltaics in the region, and to communicate with regional governments to advocate photovoltaics," Zhengrong Shi stated at the opening ceremony. He also emphasized the beginning of a closer cooperation amongst Asian photovoltaic players, adding that the "role [of APVIA] is similar to that of EPIA in Europe." It also became clear during the course of the ceremony that aside from the already-established Asian photovoltaic giants China and India, the Southeast Asian region is fast-becoming another solar darling.

JA Solar's CEO Peng Fang told reporter how important the Southeast Asian market is becoming for both manufacturers and investors alike. "Asia-Pacific PV is already growing very fast," he said. "Countries like Malaysia and Thailand in this region particularly are also seeing an increase in PV activity. What the region now needs is to align the policies and start figuring out the right system, feed-in tariffs (FITs) and so on, to push for solar."

FITs for the region
The conference, 'Asia Pacific: The next growth frontier for the solar market', brought up the issue of renewable energy policies, or the lack of them, particularly for photovoltaics in the region. Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association president, Shamsuddin Khalid highlighted the current state of Southeast Asian photovoltaics aptly: "The countries with the most amount of sunshine are the ones with the least policy movements." This by no means points to inactivity in the region, but rather the speed of things. "How do we convince the governments in the region that solar PV is the best alternative?” he asked.

Malaysia has been making headlines with its hopeful FIT-proposal. Khalid hopes for the final FITs to be in place by end of the year. Nevertheless, the policy making and implementation of FITs is "too slow", according to one conference participant. He added that with the massive fall in system prices, things ought to already pick up in the region and be moving at a quicker pace.

EPIA's board director, Murray Cameron, explained how difficult things can be for photovoltaics when conventional energy sources like gas are heavily subsidized in the region. Khalid agreed, giving the example that natural gas in Malaysia has received 110-150 million MYR in subsidies. There are strong support groups and lobbies for conventional fuels and photovoltaics has to fight for its place amongst these giants.

The panel 'Impending grid parity in Asia Pacific' brought up the importance of government support and the establishment of the right mechanisms to lend the initial boost for photovoltaics. Cameron highlighted that perhaps FITs are not the only way to go. After all, the FIT bubble that has popped, and is continuing to pop, in Europe can be a lesson to learn from. He added that aside from FITs, the regional governments can also consider other options like guaranteed and priority access to the grid.

Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance and moderator for the second panel on grid parity further stated that with the Spanish and German FIT-situations in the background, FITs can be a double-edged sword. Food for thought. The long term goal, however, for grid parity, as JA Solar's Fang added, is to "move from a subsidy-driven market to a market-driven one".

The China debate
It also became rather clear that not everyone believes that the government support in China and the massive manufacturing might of the country is destroying the solar industry. The dumping prices debate, which has made headlines in recent weeks, did not escape mention at the event.

Some manufacturers reporter spoke with declined to comment on the matter, stating that it is simply too sensitive, while others spoke about how the industry ought to actually appreciate the efforts of the Chinese government to support their photovoltaic industry, and provide a sustainable environment to thrive, innovate and grow.

One manufacturer who asked not to be named said that many countries have subsidized and pushed for development of other sectors years before, so why pick out solar and why blame the Chinese now? "Shouldn't governments see this positive trend and also encourage and support their domestic companies?" he asked.

Location, location
Trina Solar announced the establishment of its Asia Pacific regional headquarters in Singapore. The manufacturer hopes to strengthen its management functions, administration, sales, project development, R&D, logistics, and purchasing operations in the region with its new headquarters.
Trina is not the only one present and active in the country. In the last few years, many photovoltaic companies have set up manufacturing, R&D or headoffices for the region there. Tying in to the goal of APVIA, Jifan Gao,chairman and CEO of Trina Solar, emphasized the role of Singapore as the hub to communicate and bring together the solar players in the region.

Renewable Energy Corporation's (REC) Ole Enger also talked about the central role Singapore is playing in the region. REC's Singapore plant has been doing very well, thus helping to provide a more positive outlook to the rather gloomy news of closures and financial losses. Enger pointed out how important it is becoming for photovoltaic manufacturers to wisely choose their location. Logistics, manpower, attitude, resources, government support and efficiency are just some of the key factors that play a crucial role in creating the perfect equation for a successful business.

Southeast Asia seems to have definitely jumped onto the solar bandwagon and is ready to follow its South Asian and Eastern neighbors. Only time will tell, however, how successful the individual countries will be.

Addresses alternative solar technologies

Day two of the PV Asia Pacific Expo has focused on the issue of alternative solar technologies. Questions like why anyone would switch from crystalline technology to technologies like thin film were posed. "Alternatives" are what most label solar energy as when talking about the various energy sources available in the world today. What is interesting is the fact that within the solar world, some technology forms are also listed as being alternatives to the rather prominent crystalline silicon. What are the alternatives to the much-celebrated crystalline silicon? Will these alternatives ever come into major commercial play? What makes them bankable and who are the players working these sectors? These were just some of the questions posed during the second day of the Asia Pacific PV expo, currently being held in Singapore.

Much ignored
Alternatives in the alternative energy sector are defined as technologies like thin film and concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). Shanghai New Energy Industry Association's Chief Representative of Europe Nabih Cherradi called them the "much ignored section of the PV industry".

Nabih who moderated the sessions on 'Alternatives to crystalline silicon' and the 'Commercialization of innovative technologies' posed the question of whether these alternatives can provide any leverage over crystalline technologies.

Why, he asked, would anyone switch from the well-established crystalline technology to the promising, but rather unstable technologies like thin film? Solar Frontier's Ichiro Sugiyama highlighted his company's success story, having placed its trust in thin film technology and made the bold and impressive 900 megawatt (MW) plant move.

Race for the right technology
Exotic alternatives are aplenty as Helmholtz Center Berlin's Hans-Werner Schock highlighted. He placed cadmium telluride (CdTe) as a front runner in the field, alongside the more or less stable CIGS/CIS and amorphous silicon technologies. CdTe stands right on top in terms of costs, he said, but there are limitations, such as the rarity of the composition element. He sees immense promise in dye sensitized solar cells, but so far says it has not broken into the commercial market. Schlock also said that organic photovoltaics has to work towards becoming stable.

In the thin film realm, CIGS is one of the most diversified alternative technologies, with around 30 companies worldwide dabbling in the technology. Schock pointed to the Solar Frontier modules, which at 17 percent efficiency, are "very impressive". However, he sees the efficiency figure climbing to 25 percent in the future.  He added that the winning formula will be to choose the technology with the highest efficiency and throughput to place it on the competitive front.

Amidst all the thin film buzz under the alternatives umbrella, CPVs importance was, as seems to regularly happen, undermined. Patrick McCullough, CFO of Amonix sees investment as the biggest barrier to this technology really taking off on a large scale. "If we start looking at CPV efficiencies, we wonder and go 'wow', yet the technology is underutilized," said Nabih.

"Financiers look at CPV as a new technology that is a little volatile. If you look at the money in CPV, it is a little more than one billion USD," added another conference participant. The excitement towards CPV was low, but it has begun to see a change in the last two years.

Lux Research's Will Polese also agreed that finances are the missing link in alternative solar technologies. "Financing is the most immature link in this industry," he said, bringing forward the fact that demand is present, but the financing mechanism in the photovoltaics sector is retarding growth. Financiers are looking at mainly large scale projects to pump their money into.

CIGS, Polese said, will move to a 2.5 gigawatt business. Banks look for comparisons between possible investments - between a CIGS plant and a gas project, for example - and the lack of standardization of the technologies here leaves a gap. "With standardization, banks can catch up," he concluded.

Scatec Solar chairman, Alf Bjorseth, meanwhile, says he sees crystalline silicon photovoltaic costs reducing and financiers remaining confident, or gaining more confidence in it, because of its impressive track record thus far. Alternatives have some catching up to here.

"If you can dream it, you can do it," Bjorseth said, quoting Walt Disney in his presentation. He looked at the theme of alternatives from a visionary angle, and, after discussing the value chain, posed the question of whether it is possible to produce modules directly from the start, without having to cut the wafers from ingots and waste silicon, and so on.

Bjorseth believes it is possible to cut portions of the value chain out and to tighten the process to a few steps. The same applies for the stabilization and commercial success of technologies in thin film and CPV. These technologies are complicated to adapt with new process step changes. In this sense, crystalline silicon has advantages.

Nabih believes that the time will also come for these "other guy's in PV". Australia’s Martin Green said it is a race, but there is no finishing line. The developments, innovations and changes will keep coming, and step by step improvements will establish a better track record. Then the money will flow confidently into non-crystalline silicon areas of the photovoltaics market, thus thrusting them into the mainstream.

The important landmarks of Asia-Pacific photovoltaic map

November 3, the Asia Pacific PV Expo closed on a positive note as the pre-monsoon rain drizzled outside the Marina Bay Sands convention center. The numbers were perhaps not as high as what many exhibitors had expected, but the companies present said it was the quality of the visitors who stopped by their booths, and not the quantity that counted. The expo and conference was relatively quiet compared to the packed halls of Intersolar or SNEC Shanghai. However, the top management were present, and the quieter halls gave many a chance to sit down and actually talk business.

One German manufacturer said he has had the opportunity to speak with CEOs from Chinese companies for a good hour at this show - something that is difficult to do at the bigger exhibitions, mainly because of the traffic. And, while the rather somber photovoltaic situation and looming euro crisis may have dampened things a little for the industry, people are remaining positive. As Schmid's Frank Tinnefeld said, "Yes, things may be a little slow and the shakeout maybe happening, but I believe that the industry will pick up by 2013."

The Economic Development Board's (EDBs) Goh Chee Kiong additionally said that he is pleased with this very first photovoltaic expo in Singapore. He added that the first step has already been taken to place Singapore on the solar map. The country may not develop to be a huge market, but it is definitely turning out to be a prime location for photovoltaic manufacturers to set up their research and development facilities, and Asian Pacific headoffices.

The support from the country's EBD is also clear as Si Pro's CEO Erik Bjorstad highlighted. "Singapore is optimal for our facility, because the same level of environmental protection and regulations apply here as in Norway," stated Bjorstad. This is something important to the Norwegian company, which recycles silicon lost in the value chain.

Recycling is also becoming a very big issue in an industry that cannot automatically qualify as green just because the product enables green energy. "Having a facility in Singapore as well allows for us to cooperate with companies in the region easily and help them recover a high yield," Bjorstad added.

Recycling in the crystalline value chain is something that is less talked about. The lower profit margins are, however, pushing for more ways to save, and recycling of the large amount of silicon that is lost in the value chain - about 70 percent - can, without a doubt, help manufacturers cut costs.

Singapore is also apparently a speedy country. "Things move really quickly in Singapore," stated Heraeus' photovoltaic unit vice president, Andy London. The company is set to hold its Asian Photovoltaic Center's grand opening tomorrow in Singapore. "We broke ground in February and were finished by May," London said.

Not just how fast infrastructure is developed, but also the importance placed on Intellectual property protection in Singapore is advantageous. Add to the mix the ease of setting up on the island, the hassle-free bureaucratic processes, which allow photovoltaic players to exist in a business-friendly environment, the easily trained and qualified workforce and, now, the very first photovoltaic show, and it is easy to see why Singapore is ready to play ball with solar's big boys.

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