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Archive for the ‘Yingli’ Category

photo: Todd Woody

I wrote this story for Reuters, where it first appeared:

China’s increasing domination of a rapidly expanding solar module industry is revealed in a report that shows that Chinese companies are expected to account for nearly 72 percent of new photovoltaic manufacturing capacity this year.

For instance, China’s LDK Solar will add the most new capacity in 2010 with 1,420 megawatts coming online, according to iSuppli, an El Segundo, Calif., technology research firm.

Norway’s REC took second place with 1,090 megawatts of manufacturing capacity expected to be added by year’s end.

But Chinese companies held seven of the top 10 positions on iSuppli’s list, representing 6,445 megawatts of manufacturing capacity.

Suntech Power Holdings will add 1,025 megawatts while JA Solar will expand manufacturing by 1,000 megawatts. Yingli Green Energy will add 800 megawatts of capacity by the end of the year while Trina Solar Energy will install an additional 700 megawatts.

“I go to Shanghai every six weeks and the scale of the operations is just jaw dropping, absolutely jaw dropping,” Conrad Burke, chief executive of Innovalight, a Silicon Valley solar company, said in a recent interview.

Innovalight itself abandoned plans to manufacture its own photovoltaic panels in late 2008 and now licenses a patented “silicon ink” to JA Solar and Yingli that boosts the efficiency of their solar modules.

“There’s nothing in California that even comes close to the scale in China,” said Burke.

In fact, earlier this month, Solyndra, a Silicon Valley startup that makes thin-film solar panels, announced it would shutter an existing factory in Fremont, Calif., and delay plans to expand a new manufacturing plant built with a $535 million federal loan guarantee. The company cited competition from low-cost Chinese manufacturers as a major factor in its move to scale back production.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: The White House

In The New York Times on Wednesday, I take a look at how the rapid rise of low-cost Chinese solar panel companies have forced Silicon Valley’s high-tech solar startups to retool for a global market they had not anticipated:

FREMONT, Calif. — A few years ago, Silicon Valley start-ups like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé dreamed of transforming the economics of solar power by reinventing the technology used to make solar panels and deeply cutting the cost of production.

Founded by veterans of the Valley’s chip and hard-drive industries, these companies attracted billions of dollars in venture capital investment on the hope that their advanced “thin film” technology would make them the Intels and Apples of the global solar industry.

But as the companies finally begin mass production — Solyndra just flipped the switch on a $733 million factory here last month — they are finding that the economics of the industry have already been transformed — by the Chinese. Chinese manufacturers, heavily subsidized by their own government and relying on vast economies of scale, have helped send the price of conventional solar panels plunging and grabbed market share far more quickly than anyone anticipated.

As a result, the California companies, once so confident that they could outmaneuver the competition, are scrambling to retool their strategies and find niches in which they can thrive.

“The solar market has changed so much it’s almost enough to make you want to cry,” said Joseph Laia, chief executive of MiaSolé. “We have spent a lot more time and energy focusing on costs a year or two before we thought we had to.”

The challenges come despite extensive public and private support for the Silicon Valley companies. Solyndra, one of the biggest firms, has raised more than $1 billion from investors. The federal government provided a $535 million loan guarantee for the company’s new robot-run, 300,000-square-foot solar panel factory, known as Fab 2.

“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” President Obama said in May during an appearance at the then-unfinished factory.

But during the year that Solyndra’s plant was under construction, competition from the Chinese helped drive the price of solar modules down 40 percent. Solyndra rushed to start cranking out panels on Sept. 13, two months ahead of schedule, and it has increased marketing efforts to make the case to customers that Solyndra’s more expensive panels are cost-effective when installation charges are factored in.

“It definitely puts more pressure on us to bring our costs down as quickly as possible by ramping up volume,” said Ben Bierman, Solyndra’s executive vice president for operations and engineering, as driverless carts shuttled stacks of photovoltaic parts to large orange robots at Fab 1, the company’s original factory.

To be sure, Silicon Valley companies like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in customer orders and some plan to expand local manufacturing. But the rapid rise of low-cost Chinese manufacturers has made investors — who once envisioned the region’s future as Solar Valley — skittish about backing new capital-intensive start-ups.

“I don’t see another Solyndra being done,” said Anup Jacob, whose private equity firm, Virgin Green Fund, has invested significantly in Solyndra. “It’s very difficult today to show a business plan to investors and say, ‘I need hundreds of millions to a billion dollars to get to scale.’ ”

In the third quarter of 2010, venture capital investment in solar companies plummeted to $144 million from $451 million in the year-ago quarter, according to the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco research firm.

The paucity of capital and the sheer size of Chinese solar panel makers have proved particularly problematic for companies like Solyndra and MiaSolé, which make photovoltaic cells using a material called copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which are made from silicon wafers, CIGS cells can be deposited on glass or flexible materials, much as ink is printed on rolls of newspaper. Though the technology is less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, the promise of “thin film” solar cells was that they could be made cheaply.

However, producing CIGS cells on a mass scale has turned out to be a formidable technological challenge, requiring the invention of specialized manufacturing equipment.

While Silicon Valley companies were working on the problem, silicon prices fell and Chinese companies like JA Solar, Suntech and Yingli Green Energy rapidly expanded production of conventional solar panels, supported by tens of billions of dollars in inexpensive credit from the Chinese government as well as other subsidies like cheap land.

Arno Harris, chief executive of Recurrent Energy, a San Francisco solar developer acquired by Sharp last month, said he chose to sign a supply deal with Yingli because the Chinese company offered low prices, quality products and financing.

“We realized that would enable us to bid competitive power prices from projects that could also be efficiently financed,” Mr. Harris said in an e-mail. “It may seem obvious to state it this simply, but declining prices are the key to driving the next era of demand for solar.”

Chinese solar panel makers now supply about 40 percent of the California market, the largest in the United States, and the bulk of the European market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm.

“We grow every year with double revenue and almost double capacity,” said Fang Peng, the chief executive of JA Solar, in a telephone interview from the company’s Shanghai headquarters. “At end of the year, we will have 1.8 gigawatts of capacity and will have grown from 4,000 employees at the beginning of this year to more than 11,000.”

By comparison, Solyndra expects to have a total production capacity of 300 megawatts by the end of 2011.

The competition from the Chinese has prompted some Silicon Valley companies, like AQT Solar, to pursue new strategies to survive.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Photo: WorldWater & Solar Technologies

I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.

Carbon neutral jumbo jets may be a long way off but some airports are making strides in cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.

Denver International, for instance, announced Tuesday that it will install a 4.4-megawatt solar array, more than doubling the 2 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic panels the airport built in 2008. Earlier this year, Denver signed a deal for a third array, which will generate an additional 1.6 megawatts of electricity.

Yingli Green Energy is providing the 19,000 panels for the 4.4-megawatt project. A Yingli spokesperson told me that altogether, the photovoltaic arrays will supply on average about 6 percent of the airport’s electricity demand. But on days when the sunshine is intense, the solar farm would generate enough electricity to meet nearly a third of Denver International’s electricity needs.

When completed in 2011, the 4.4-megawatt installation will be Colorado’s largest commercial solar project. But what’s really notable is the photovoltaic module maker supplying the solar panels, Yingli.

The Chinese company only entered the United States in 2009 and by that year’s end had captured nearly a third of the California solar market, the bright star of the U.S. solar system. Low-cost Chinese solar companies now supply almost half the California market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consulting and research firm.

The Denver deal is another sign that Yingli and other Chinese solar panel makers are shaking up the U.S. market as they move beyond their California base.

In other news, another relatively little-known Chinese firm, Solarfun, said Monday it struck a deal to supply 9.5 megawatts’ worth of solar modules to Martifer Solar, the U.S. subsidiary of a Portuguese renewable energy company, which will install them at projects in California and Colorado.

“Solarfun is focused on the U.S. market as one of our primary growth drivers going forward and we expect Martifer to be a key partner as we continue to build market presence and share,” Bruce Ludemann, the vice president and general manager of Solarfun’s North American operations, said in a statement.

Such success may cause consternation in the executive suites of rivals from Bonn to Silicon Valley, where low-cost Chinese manufacturing is forcing competitors to become even more efficient and maintain their technological edge.

But in the end, the China’s ability to secure such large deals shows that the solar market truly is taking off.

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In The New York Times last week, I wrote about how Yingli, the Chinese solar module maker, is heading east after capturing nearly a third of the California market last year:

Yingli, the Chinese solar module maker that captured nearly a third of the California market last year, has struck a deal to supply a New Jersey developer with more than 10 megawatts of photovoltaic panels.

The agreement announced Tuesday with SunDurance Energy for the first time brings  Yingli’s reach to the East Coast. SunDurance, owned by a construction and engineering firm, the Conti Group, will install the Yingli solar panels on rooftops, in carports and in ground-mounted solar farms.

“Being able to have a presence on both coasts and in some of the other states that are emerging is very significant for us,” Robert Petrina, the managing director for Yingli’s American operations, said.

He said Yingli shipped 15 megawatts of modules in the fourth quarter of 2009 in the United States. The deal with SunDurance calls for Yingli to provide 10 megawatts through the third quarter of this year. The company had previously supplied solar panels to SunDurance for other projects.

Yingli, based 100 miles south of Beijing in the city of Baoding, opened offices in New York and San Francisco at the beginning of 2009. By year’s end, the company held 27 percent of the California market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm. Its stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Chinese firms, including the Yingli rival Suntech, increased their share of the California market to 46 percent, up from 21 percent at the beginning of 2009.

Mr. Petrina said declines in the price of polysilicon — a vital ingredient in solar cells — and in subsidies paid by European countries made it feasible for Yingli to enter the American market.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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