Trina Solar is among the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world and has so far supplied equipment for 4,000 Mw capacity in India too. In an exclusive and detailed interview with , Helena Li, President-Asia Pacific, says she will not be surprised if Chinese firms set up manufacturing base in India in response to the safeguard duty imposed by the government on solar panel imports in a bid to develop a local supply chain. Trina Solar is also looking at opportunities to expand its massive manufacturing base including in India, Li, who is also the Head of Global Module Sales, says. Edited excerpts:
What are the key emerging trends in the growth of the solar power equipment market in the Asia Pacific? What are the main drivers of growth?
A key trend we see is that an increasing number of countries in Asia Pacific are wanting to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. Countries are starting to have renewable targets and projects are launching to help achieve these targets. It is being done for environmental as well as economic reasons. Solar equipment is more cost-effective and competitive than other energy sources. It is a more affordable and sustainable source of energy.
Another trend we see is that, as markets mature and people become more familiar with solar energy technology, they appreciate the value of higher quality solar modules. Tier-one brands like us provide a strong return on investment as our modules have been extensively tested to withstand the elements, have high bankability ratings and are backed by long-term warranties.
A further trend we see – with the innovations driven by the supply chain, especially by Chinese suppliers – is higher efficiency solar modules are enabling the wider adoption of solar in countries where there may be limited land available for solar installations: rooftops, fishing ponds, greenhouses, floating solar, building integrated solar, etc.
On a comparison of countries across Asia Pacific, which are the fastest and the most lucrative growing markets for solar panels?
China and India are the two biggest solar energy markets in Asia Pacific, followed by Japan and Australia which are mature solar markets. We are seeing this year, phenomenal growth in Vietnam and Central Asia, which are moving away from their dependence on fossil fuels. When we say Central Asia we mean countries such as Kazakhstan. In Southeast Asia, countries such as Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia have also developed sizable solar markets which have been in place for several years now.
How do you rate the policy/regulatory regimes that exist across nations in the region when it comes to providing support for the growth of clean energy technologies? Can you give country-specific comments?
We see that countries in Asia Pacific have generally been very supportive of the solar energy industry, because policy makers in the region do understand the importance of adopting clean energy and reducing CO2 emissions. Different countries are at different phases, but generally solar or other forms of renewable energy are now entering not just the traditional utility energy sector, but making inroads into the commercial, industrial and residential sectors. More and more countries have adopted renewable energy and solar energy targets as part of their broader energy policy transformation programmes.
How do you view the recent move by the Indian government to impose safeguard duties on imports of Chinese solar panels to protect the domestic industry? How detrimental is the move likely to be for the growth of companies like Trina in India?
India has a very aggressive non-fossil fuel target of 175 GW by 2022 of which 100 GW is solar. Prime Minister Modi, however, recently increased the non-fossil fuel target to 450 GW. I think the long-term supply chain development, locally in India, is a strategic move by the government to support the solar industry’s growth. It has become an integrated part of the “Make In India” initiative. Currently the major supply chain and ‘economies of scale’ still resides in China, which is driving product innovation and cost reduction. Even with the safeguard duty, the majority of India’s solar projects still import – from China or substitute sources like Thailand and Vietnam – to make the project financially viable and attractive for investors.
But with India’s local manufacturing growing in the coming years – with the support of the government on incentives – I would expect India’s supply chain will become more competitive as compared to the manufacturing hubs now in Asia.
When it’s economically and financially viable – with local supply chain and manufacturing – personally I would not be surprised if Chinese companies were attracted to make investment in India’s local supply chain or partner with local manufacturers to develop the local manufacturing that could meet the market requirements. Just like how manufacturing in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia is now developing thanks to the improved cost competitiveness of their supply chains. I think this is what the India policy is working towards and my personal view is that it will take some time to build the supply chain. And in the end it will need to be a market-driven process, as government incentives and subsidies cannot remain in place for a long-time.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share a few basics of Trina Solar — How old is the company? What have been the key highlights of its growth journey so far? What is the size of the company — revenue, manpower, project or manufacturing capacity etc? Can you name a few large orders Trina has commissioned in India?
Trina Solar was established in 1997. It was one of the first and is now one of the largest solar module manufacturers in the world.
The company is headquartered on Changzhou, China. It started in China, but has grown to be a truly global company. The first phase of our growth focused on the US and Europe which were providing subsidies to consumers and businesses in those markets to adopt solar energy.
But in the last 10 years, Trina Solar has substantially reduced its dependence on the US, European and other developed markets, and has moved into more emerging markets globally.
Trina Solar has 13,000 employees from 40 countries around the world.
We have a strong international reach, not just with sales but also in manufacturing. We have manufacturing bases in China, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia providing total module manufacturing annualized capacity of more than 10GW.
Trina Solar collaborate with the leading solar research organizations in the world, to develop leading technologies and innovations used for our products. For example, in Asia Pacific we help research at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the largest and best-known university PV research group in the world. UNSW was instrumental in the development of PERC cell technology, which is now proving to be very popular in the market. We have also invested in solar research done by the Australian National University (ANU) and Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS).
By working closely with leading scientists and researchers from around the world, we develop leading technologies.
Some other recent milestones include the acquisition in May last year of our long-term partner, Spain-based Nclave, which manufactures highly adaptable structures and trackers for solar installations. Solar trackers allow solar panels to automatically track the sun throughout the day and can raise overall output by 25-35% depending on local conditions.
On the cell research side, in May this year we set a new world record for 25.04% conversion efficiency for N-type mono IBC solar cells.
We were also given the highest score for bankability by experts in the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF)’s annual survey in August 2019. We are the only PV manufacturer in the world to achieve this top score four years in a row. The score means Trina Solar modules are investment-grade, and are trusted by top financiers and developers to provide a strong and reliable return on investment.
Trina Solar has been operating in India since 2010. We have delivered more than 4GW of solar capacity to India. We have been serving the key segments of India’s solar market: utility-scale projects, solar installations for commercial and industrial companies, as well as solar installations for households. An example of a utility-scale project we’ve done, is the solar farm outside the town of Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. This is a 151MW ground mounted system that is producing enough clean energy to offset 216,372 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum.
Trina Solar has also seen strong growth in India’s commercial and industrial segment.
Businesses in India want to adopt clean energy, especially those in the textile, pharmaceutical, chemical, logistics and IT industries. They want to install 50-500kW rooftop and ground-mount installations. Solar is a sensible choice for businesses as grid electricity can be expensive. Solar energy is feasible for industrial and commercial businesses in India, because many have a lot of roof space or land available for solar installations.
An interesting project we did recently in India was for industrial company Rolex Rings in Gujarat state’s Rajkot city. The factory, which makes automotive parts, wanted to reduce its dependency on the electricity grid, so we installed a 675kWp system on the factory roof. The installation is producing over 1.03 million Kwh of clean energy per year. We estimate this is saving the factory about $110,000 a year off their electricity bills from the grid.
Can you share the details of the company’s manufacturing facilities globally? Any plans to set-up local manufacturing facilities in India in the near future?
Besides China, our manufacturing bases in Vietnam and Thailand each have 1 GW production. We also have some manufacturing in capacity in Malaysia.
We are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to expand our manufacturing footprint, including India. It is a market driven initiative. We are proactively studying new policies in India and the requirements of our customers with regards to: Technology, product and cost aspects. We are exploring with partners, in the industries, on the opportunities for supply chain expansion.
ET Energy World