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Solar panels: Industry turns to emerging markets

Suppliers are strengthening foothold in the Middle East and Africa to take advantage of the regions' strong government support for the line.

Still wary after being hit hard by the economic crisis, several suppliers of solar panels in China are boosting efforts to cultivate the Middle East and Africa. Although the EU and the US are becoming more stable financially, many are cautious of relying solely on these traditional markets as exports there fell sharply during the slump.

Solar panel
Zhejiang Trunsun's model TSM180 monocrystalline solar panel has an anti-reflective coating, and torsion- and corrosion-resistant anodized frame.
Companies are keen on exploring the Middle East because the region's PV industry is still in its infancy, offering strong growth prospects. In addition to the area's climate, which is conducive to solar power generation, makers are attracted by the favorable position of the government toward renewable alternative energy.


The UAE, for one, has pledged to obtain 7 percent of its electricity needs from such power sources by 2020. Abu Dhabi, in fact, has already begun building Masdar, a city that will run mainly on solar energy and is envisioned to have zero-carbon ecology.

To gain a foothold in the region, several suppliers have formed alliances with companies in Israel. Suntech has

collaborated with Solarit Doral in constructing a 50kW rooftop project in the northern town of Katzrin. The largest in Israel, the installation is expected to churn out 85,000kWh every year.

Another large venture is in the pipeline. Solar Green is currently in talks with some China makers regarding the development of a 5MW base in South Israel.

Suppliers are also seeing high potential in Africa. The Ministry of Science and Technology has set aside $380 million for PV power generation and research in Kenya.

Products & prices
Industry overview
Products & prices

Mono- and polycrystalline and amorphous models constitute China's solar panel selection. With an efficiency rating of 13 to 17 percent, the first two types account for more than 80 percent of output.

Most products have a tempered glass surface and an aluminum alloy frame. They comply with CE, T5V, RoHS and IEC requirements. Prices are from $1.80 to $2.30 per watt.

Generally, monocrystalline designs are 30 percent more expensive than polycrystalline versions as the former offer greater conversion efficiency. Because of strong demand, however, polycrystalline panels are currently priced $0.05 to $0.10 higher.

Three types of amorphous models are available, namely amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride or CdTe and CIGS or copper, indium, gallium and selenium. These deliver less than 8 percent efficiency. They have an average price of $2.65 per watt, but this is expected to go down to $1 in 2011 because of declining outlay.

While they represent one-fifth of turnout now, amorphous models are forecast to take up half of production in the next five years when efficiency reaches 15 percent.

At present, China has no complete manufacturing line for the segment. Advancements therefore have been slow compared with those in Europe and the US. To address this issue, the government is allowing several foreign makers to set up factories in the country to promote the development of thin-film technology.

First Solar of the US, for instance, will build a 2GW solar plant in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, beginning June 2010. CdTe models from the company can convert 10 percent of solar power into electricity, significantly higher than the 6 percent rating of domestic counterparts.

Another challenge in furthering the amorphous line is expensive raw materials. At present, the per-kilogram cost of indium is between $500 and $580. These figures are actually about 3 percent lower than the $520 to $600 range at the beginning of 2009.

Nonetheless, spending for polycrystalline silicon remains much smaller at $80 in September 2009. Costs have dropped 82 percent from the previous year's $450.

The majority of suppliers are therefore more interested on improving their silicon models. In the months ahead, R&D in this particular category will continue to focus on increasing conversion efficiency. So far, efforts have yielded several designs with a 17.8 percent rating.

Prices of China-made solar panels will remain at current levels in the next six months, owing to the stable cost of materials.

Industry overview

The solar panel industry in China is composed of about 400 companies, almost all engaged in exports. More than 90 percent offers silicon models.

Production takes place mainly in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces, which both have a complete supply chain for the line. Their proximity to Central and Western China is also an advantage in terms of material sourcing.

Solar panels from Jiangsu are mostly upscale, while models from Guangdong cater to the low-end and midrange markets. This is because more large companies are based in the former, including Suntech.

Jiangsu suppliers hold more than 60 intellectual property rights and approximately 20 patents collectively. Roughly 20 percent of world supply comes from these makers.

On the whole, China contributes an estimated 30 percent to global solar panel output. More than 90 percent of production is exported. One-third of overseas shipments are OEM-based.

In 2008, the country's PV output was 2,000MW, considerably higher than the 3MW generated in 2001.

This article "Solar panels: Industry turns to emerging markets" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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