Saving the best for last: Day 3 of Intersolar North America

Audience members at Intersolar conference took the chance to pose their questions to the speakers
Audience members at Intersolar conference took the chance to pose their questions to the speakers

The final day of the Intersolar North America trade show may have been the most interesting. Notably, the final conference panel of solar industry CEOs featured a sharp exchange between moderator Dr. Eicke Weber of Fraunhofer ISE and SolarWorld Americas President Gordon Brinser over the issue of US and EU tariffs, illustrating the deep divide that remains in this industry over that issue.

Another main theme was shifting markets, as the industry grapples with the move of PV markets to Asia and an increasing number of emerging markets around the world. The show's technical focus was also carried through, with conference panels maintaining the theme of incremental technology progress, and energy storage coming up again.


Solar CEO showdown over tariffs

The trade war between the US, EU and China was the first topic to be presented by Weber during the CEO panel. This guaranteed controversy, given the presence of SolarWorld; however it should also be noted that the conflict could have been more intense, as the panel included neither Chinese manufacturers nor project developers.

Following SolarWorld Americas CEO Brinser's predictable talking points about the need to make China play by the rules of international trade, SMA CEO Pierre Pascal-Urbon was the first to note that the tariffs are a factor in the “significant downturn” that EU PV markets are seeing.

However, it was the moderator, Dr. Weber, who had the most critical words for SolarWorld, at one point suggesting that he finds it hard to believe that a nation with a capacity of 50 GW of PV production even care about the 5 GW of manufacturing in the United States and Europe.

Instead of intentional dumping, Dr. Weber offered a different analysis, arguing that the collapse of prices was the result of the “sheer incompetence of regional power brokers” in China, who were unaware of how much aggregate capacity was being added in other regions.

In his response, SolarWorld CEO Gordon Brinser noted that the Chinese government had stated its plans to take over the global PV industry in a recent five year-plan.


Centrosolar: Reform of finance practices is the solution

Perhaps the most interesting commentary came from Centrosolar CEO Johannes Kneip. Kneip has a background in the semiconductor industry, and noted the “casualites on the street” from trade wars in the semiconductor industry.

His analysis was that while subsidies for investments in fixed costs are common all over the world, that the problem is that the Chinese government has been supplying additional credit for companies to finance their variable costs, stating that this is “not acceptable”.

In the end, little middle ground was met, with SolarWorld refusing to budge from the position that trade action is necessary, and with other participants unsatisfied with this response.


Shifting markets

These strong concerns about US and EU markets come both as the industry is increasingly moving east, and becoming geographically more diverse. In the Future of PV panel Michael Barker of NPD Solarbuzz laid out a future where major Asian markets make up nearly 50% of the global total as early as 2014.

Both Barker and Soitec CEO Dr. André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé noted that with this geographical shift comes a move towards more utility-scale PV and less residential PV. Soitec is particularly targeting a future in the “Sunbelt” nations, under very different market conditions than have been typical in Europe.

Technology moves

The issue of energy storage came up again at the CEO panel, however panelists noted that deployment is still in its early stages in Germany and elsewhere.

Many panelists noted that a network of electric vehicles batteries may be an important part of this solution, and Soitec CEO Dr. Auberton-Hervé reminded panelists that pumped hydro, where available, is an excellent energy storage medium.





2013-07-12 | Courtesy: Solar Server. Image: Solar Promotion International  | © Heindl Server GmbH

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