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Solar Trade War:
China vs. The EU

The European Commission intends to implement import tariffs as high as 67.9% on Chinese solar photovoltaic products, following in the footsteps of the U.S., which laid down tariffs of its own last year.

But as of press time, all three protagonists - China, the EU and the U.S. - were trying to find common ground on which to settle their differences without another series of tariffs falling on China.

Following a complaint filed by Germany-based SolarWorld and members of EU ProSun, the EU launched a probe in September 2012 to determine if Chinese solar firms were dumping their products in the European sector at below-market prices.

Citing a copy it viewed of the commission’s plan, The Wall Street Journal reported that the duties will range between 37.3% and 67.9%, with bigger Chinese manufacturers likely getting hit the hardest. According to the commission document, well-known companies Suntech Power Holdings Co., LDK Solar Ltd. and Trina Solar Ltd. will see tariffs of 48.6%, 55.9% and 51.5%, respectively.

EU ProSun maintains that such anti-dumping duties will have a positive effect on Europe’s solar sector.

“If the European Commission acts now against illegal dumping by Chinese solar manufacturers, this industry can survive and prosper,” said Milan Nitzschke, president of EU ProSun. “If the EU does not act, EU ProSun predicts a Chinese solar monopoly with disastrous consequences for European manufacturers, suppliers and customers.”

Dober Partners, a consultant to EU ProSun, recently tapped PwC to analyze a study by Prognos that claims the tariffs on Chinese solar products would lead to job losses in the EU.

“The Prognos study contains major flaws in methodology and content, as well as contradictory evidence,” said Wolfgang Nothhelfer, author of the PwC study. “The U.S. imposed tariffs on photovoltaic products in 2012. As in Europe, a study commissioned on the possible effects of tariffs forecast an alarming crash of demand and job losses in the U.S.

“However, after the introduction of tariffs, demand increased, and 14,000 new solar jobs were created,” Nothhelfer added. “We should not believe alarming studies which are based on vague data and questionable assumptions. Indeed, it is reasonable to conclude that the introduction of tariffs will have a net positive effect on employment in Europe.”

A report from IHS determined that if the EU follows through with its plans, average pricing for Chinese-manufactured PV modules could surge by 45%, cutting some solar project internal rates of return to below 7% and further dampening demand in Europe.

Chinese modules carried an average price of $0.66/W in March and were expected to increase to $0.67/W in June, based on a forecast from the IHS Solar Module Price Index. However, with EU commissioners planning to impose import duties, IHS says average pricing could surge to $0.97/W.

The Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China had called for dialogue and consultations with the EU. Spokesperson Yao Jian said that the EU and China are “important trade partners” and that it is essential to “properly handle” the EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations.

“China and EU have carried out a wide range of cooperation in such areas as improving investment environment, opening up of markets, urbanization, new energy utilization and electric vehicle technology,” Jian said. “As for the current trade dispute, the two parties should solve them through further consultations, so as to promote common development.”

China then said it would impose tariffs on imports of polysilicon from the EU, the U.S. and South Korea.

On May 21, the New York Times reported the EU and the U.S were working toward settlements with China that would eliminate the U.S. tariffs and prevent the EU’s measures, which were pegged to take effect on June 5.

Visit solarindustrymag.com for the latest on this issue.

 

All New Capacity
Came From Solar

For the first time, solar energy accounted for all new utility electricity generation capacity added to the U.S. grid in March, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) analysis of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) March 2013 Energy Infrastructure Update.

More than 44 MW of solar electric capacity was brought online from seven projects in California, Nevada, New Jersey, Hawaii, Arizona and North Carolina. All other energy sources combined added no new generation.

Solar also had a strong showing in FERC’s quarterly generation numbers, accounting for about 30% of all utility-scale new capacity, SEIA adds. The report focuses exclusively on larger facilities and does not include energy generated by net-metered installations. Net-metered systems account for more than half of all U.S. solar electric capacity.

“This speaks to the extraordinary strides we have made in the past several years to bring down costs and ramp up deployment,” says Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Since 2008, the amount of solar powering U.S. homes, businesses and military bases has grown by more than 600 percent - from 1,100 MW to more than 7,700 MW today.

“As FERC’s report suggests, and many analysts predict, solar will grow to be our nation’s largest new source of energy over the next four years,” Resch adds. SEIA forecasts that solar will continue its pattern of growth this year, adding 5.2 GW of new solar electric capacity.

 

First Solar Nails
Several Milestones

Cadmium-telluride (CdTe) PV manufacturer First Solar Inc. has announced several new milestones. The company has set a new world record for CdTe PV module conversion efficiency, achieving 16.1% total area module efficiency in tests confirmed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Separately, First Solar also set a record for CdTe open circuit voltage (VOC), a critical parameter for PV performance, reaching 903.2 millivolts in NREL-certified testing. This new record marks the first substantial increase in CdTe VOC in over a decade of international research and development, First Solar says.

The company has also launched a new evolution of its Series 3 thin-film PV module platform, the Series 3 Black, which incorporates the latest advances in conversion efficiency, as well as additional features to enhance its performance in utility-scale power plants.

The all-black module’s change in appearance results from the use of an advanced, all-black edge seal technology combined with a new encapsulation material that further enhances its field durability and demonstrates improvements in accelerated life testing results, according to First Solar.

Given these developments, First Solar has also accelerated its module conversion efficiency road map, raising its lead production line module efficiency target for 2015 from 15% to 16.2%, and targets for lead production line module efficiency of 16.2% to 16.9% in 2016 and 16.4% to 17.1% in 2017.

Finally, First Solar plans to acquire TetraSun, a solar photovoltaic technology startup that has developed a cell architecture capable of conversion efficiencies exceeding 21% with commercial-scale manufacturing costs comparable to conventional multicrystalline silicon solar cells.

The company has signed a definitive agreement to acquire TetraSun from JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. and other investors, including TetraSun management. Terms of the transaction, which is expected to close in the second quarter, were not disclosed. First Solar and JX Nippon Oil & Energy also have entered into discussions on an agreement to distribute the technology in Japan.

 

UL Warns About
Counterfeit Labels

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has sent a warning to authorities having jurisdiction, distributors, installers and users stating that certain PV modules have been labeled with a counterfeit UL Mark. The label claims that the modules have been tested to UL1703.

The affected modules are from Advanced Solar Photonics (also known as Bluechip Energy) - models AP-240PK, AP-245MK and ASP-390M. The modules have not been evaluated by UL to meet its standards, and it is unknown if the products comply with UL’s safety requirements for the U.S. and Canada, UL says.

According to UL, the modules are known to be sold by SunWorks Solar and may be sold by other distributors.

 

SEPA Names Top
Solar Utilities

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) has released a new list of the 10 U.S. electric utilities that have added the most new solar power to their systems and the most solar on a watts-per-customer basis in 2012.

This annual ranking, which identifies the companies that are integrating solar into the nation’s power grid, is part of SEPA’s sixth annual Utility Solar Rankings report. The full report, which will be released next month, identifies industry trends, such as total installed capacity, market share and industry growth rates.

Utilities ranking in this year’s top 10 (by solar megawatts) accounted for 73% of all capacity integrated in 2012, a slight increase from 2011. Among the top three in the rankings are some of the nation’s largest utilities - Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), Southern California Edison and Public Service Electric & Gas Co. - which often rank highly in this category due to their expansive customer solar programs and utility purchasing programs.

Rounding out the list are Arizona Public Service, NV Energy, Jersey Central Power & Light, Tucson Electric Power Co., Progress Energy Carolinas, Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Hawaiian Electric Co. All were previously ranked in 2011, with the exception of Progress Energy Carolinas, which is in its first year on the list.

This is the fifth year that PG&E has topped the list, SEPA notes.

Separately, the rankings of the top 10 utilities by solar watts per customer take into account the number of customers each utility serves relative to their solar megawatts installed, giving small utilities a more competitive opportunity to measure their solar energy capacity.

Leading these rankings are many municipal utilities, including the City of St. Mary’s, Ohio; Kauai Island Utility Co-op in Hawaii; and Bryan Municipal Utilities in Ohio. Both Ohio utilities were not previously ranked, and Kauai moved up from No. 12 in the 2011 rankings.

The remaining top 10 providers include Hawaiian Electric Co.; Chickasaw (Tenn.) Electric Co-op; Maui (Hawaii) Electric Co.; Imperial Irrigation District in Calif.; Tucson (Ariz.) Electric Power Co.; City of Napoleon, Ohio; and Vineland Municipal Electric Utility in N.J.

Complete rankings can be found at sepatop10.org.

 

‘Significant Value’
In Concentrating Solar

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) say they have calibrated the significant value that concentrating solar power (CSP) plants can add to an electric grid.

The NREL researchers evaluated the operational impacts of CSP systems with thermal energy storage within the California electric grid managed by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). NREL used a commercial production cost model called PLEXOS to help plan system expansion, evaluate aspects of system reliability, and estimate fuel cost, emissions and other operational factors within the CAISO system.

NREL’s analysis was considered within the context of California’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires 33% of power be supplied by renewables by 2020. The specific focus was on the “Environmentally Constrained” 33% RPS scenario, which includes a high contribution of generation from solar photovoltaic energy systems.

By also considering how the state could take advantage of CSP with thermal storage, NREL used the PLEXOS model to quantify the value of CSP in reducing the need for conventional power generation from fossil fuels and compared this value to other sources of generation, including PV, that supply variable energy depending on the amount of sunlight available.

According to NREL, the analysis demonstrated several valuable properties of dispatchable CSP, such as its ability to generate power during high-value periods when electricity demand is high and its capability to be turned off during lower-value periods. Of key interest, NREL says, is the significant operational value that is derived when CSP is allowed to provide reserve power, including frequently operating at less than full load, which would be a substantial change in operational practice.

Mark Mehos, manager of NREL’s CSP Program, emphasizes a couple other conclusions from their analysis: “CSP plants switched on during periods of highest consumer demand for electricity resulted in very high capacity value,” he says. “And the difference in value in CSP plants with and without thermal energy storage depends greatly on the amount of other variable-generation renewable energy sources on the grid, such as wind and photovoltaics.”

 

Satcon Ex-Employees
Create New Co-op

Former employees of bankrupt solar inverter manufacturer Satcon have come together to establish Solarcoop, a “multi-disciplinary cooperative” that will support solar power customers who have Satcon products integrated into their systems.

“As a result of Satcon’s bankruptcy filing last year and being aware of the need of preventive and corrective maintenance to all the customers that are currently using utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems manufactured by Satcon, we have formed an interdisciplinary cooperative team of former Satcon employees,” says Gerardo Soler, director of the co-op.

Similarly, other former Satcon employees have continued servicing the bankrupt manufacturer’s inverters through different companies and initiatives. Mike Levi, for example, spent years as a Satcon executive and now does consulting work at Ontario-based Trylon TSF. Peter Deege, a former Satcon general manager, also helps Photon Energy Group offer repairs to Satcon’s existing customers under his new position as chief commercial officer.

Solarcoop’s Soler says the new initiative represents a win-win for former Satcon employees and customers.

“We recognized this was an opportunity for us (former Satcon employees) to provide Satcon customers with a superior service by combining the skills of each of us in a cooperative effort where customer needs are first, now that they were left in limbo,” he explains. “And at the same time, we as individuals can continue developing our careers as technical workers in the alternative energy area.”

The Solarcoop initiative will offer services such as preventive maintenance, components replacement, and on-site diagnosis and repairs. The co-op will also cover various Satcon lines, including Satcon PowerGate Plus PV inverters ranging from 30 KW up to 1 MW; Solstice; Prism Platform; PV View Plus; Satcon Smart Combiner; and Equinox. S

New & Noteworthy

Solar Trade War: China vs. The EU

 

 

 

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