A technician inspects the rooftop photovoltaic (PV) power generation project of a company in Jimo district, East China’s Shandong Province on May 4, 2022. Local authorities have been encouraging the construction of rooftop PV projects in recent years, so firms can use clean electric energy for production and operation. Photo: cnsphoto
China’s photovoltaic (PV) industry has gained a historic foothold in Europe for being the most reliable and resilient supplier of solar panels as the region copes with a deepening energy crisis and its green transformation.
Demand for PV products has reached a new high, driven by surging natural gas prices amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the damaged Nord Stream pipelines. Lately, Chinese solar panels have gained growing popularity among European consumers in addition to electric blankets and hand warmers.
Chinese insiders said that the EU is likely to take up to 50 percent of China’s total PV exports this year.
Xu Aihua, deputy head of the Silicon Industry of China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association, told the Global Times on Sunday that the soaring demand for solar panels reflects geopolitical changes in Europe and the region’s green push.
Exports of PV modules have surged. From January to August, China’s exports reached $35.77 billion in terms of value, generating electricity of 100 gigawatts. Both exceeded the whole year of 2021, China Photovoltaic Industry Association data said.
The numbers are reflected in the performance of domestic PV companies. For example, Tongwei Group on Friday said that its revenue in the first three quarters reached 102.084 billion yuan ($14.09 billion), a year-on-year gain of 118.6 percent.
As of the end of the third quarter, Tongwei’s global market share exceeded 25 percent, making it the world’s largest polysilicon manufacturer, according to media reports.
Another industry conglomerate, LONGi Green Energy Technology, disclosed that in the first nine months, its net profit totaled 10.6 to 11.2 billion yuan, which would be a year-on-year increase of 40-48 percent.
The explosive demand has stretched supplies and pushed up the prices of silicon, the raw material for PV products, to as high as 308 yuan per kilogram, the highest in a decade.
A business participant told the Global Times on Sunday on condition of anonymity that because of a surge in orders from the EU, some Chinese PV producers need more workers, as its products are piling up in warehouses and can’t be delivered.
Producers along the industry chain are adding capacity too. The production capacity for silicon is expected to exceed 1.2 million tons at the end of this year, and it will double to 2.4 million tons next year, Lü Jinbiao, secretary-general of SEMI China Photovoltaic Standards Committee, told the Securities Daily on Thursday.
As capacity expands in the fourth quarter, supply and demand will be balanced, and prices are expected to return to normal, Xu said.
The International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA PVPS) estimates that 173.5 gigawatts of new solar capacity was installed in 2021, while Gaetan Masson, co-chairman of the European Solar Panel, told PV magazine that “without trade disruptions as we’ve seen in the last two years, my bet is that the market will reach 260 GW.”
China’s PV industry has long been a target of the West over its competitive prices, but its value-for-money products have provided the EU with another possibility for easing power shortage while making a green transformation, experts said.
Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Sunday that the EU is attempting to decouple from China’s PV supply chain, “but the EU should now start to understand that there is no way for it to facilitate green development without importing low-cost PV products.
“Only through making good use of global resources, can Europe gain a foothold for sustainable green development, while China has all the most complete technology, supply chains and production capacity in the PV industry.”