Solar power sales grow in Asia

Asia, led by Japan, has become the largest market for China’s solar power products, as exports to Europe plummet amid trade disputes, an industry official said on Tuesday.

Sales of solar cells, modules and related products to Europe fell about 62 percent last year to $3.7 billion. In contrast, sales to Asian customers soared 124 percent to $5.5 billion, according to the solar division of the China Chamber of Commerce for the Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products.

Sun Guangbin, secretary-general of the chamber, told the Intersolar China Conference that sales to Europe contracted starting in 2012, after the European Union launched an anti-dumping probe into Chinese solar products.

Chinese producers have been forced to scour new emerging markets for buyers. But it hasn’t been easy to find enough of them to replace sales lost in Europe.

In 2013, China’s total solar exports dropped 17.9 percent to $12.3 billion. Japan become the largest customer, accounting for nearly 25 percent of the total, while exports to Germany fell 75 percent to $507million.

Analysts said that as Japan continues to mothball most of its nuclear power plants, the country has accelerated its development of renewable energy sources, especially in the solar power sector. There are 5 gigawatts of projects in the pipeline for installation in the first half of the year.

“Demand from Japan will remain robust in the coming years, as the country faces a potential future without nuclear power and prices for liquefied natural gas remain high in Asia, creating demand for solar power products,” said Sun.

“At the same time, we’re also looking at other emerging markets with very high potential such as South Africa and India.”

Although exports fell last year, China’s total solar market showed some signs of life. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd said fourth-quarter revenue increased 28 percent to 3 billion yuan in the fourth quarter.

Li Junfeng, head of the China Renewable Energy Industry Association, which is under the National Development and Reform Commission, issued a warning on the risk of continued excess capacity in the solar sector, which may lead to trade and price wars with Japan.

“China’s solar panel industry has just started to revive. We don’t want to see a new round of anti-dumping investigations or any trade disputes,” he said.

“But I’m very concerned about our solar companies rushing into Japan’s market to grab a piece of the new solar power pie, driving down prices and causing a breakdown of their own sector.

We need to regulate and consolidate our own market to reduce excess capacity.”

The National Energy Administration has set targets for the installed solar capacity this year. The overall target is 14 gW of solar capacity, with 6 GW in utility-scale facilities and 8 gW of distributed generation.