China's strides in solar tech debated at Asia Solar Energy Forum

15:07, June 07, 2011      

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"Although Chinese companies do not own the world's most advanced solar energy technologies, their technological level is above the global average. Furthermore, China is rich in silicon and quartz and has built a complete industrial chain in the solar energy sector. The solar energy industry has huge potential in China," said You Zhenzhong, deputy chief operating officer of Trina Solar, a Chinese manufacturer of photovoltaic modules, at the Third Asia Solar Energy Forum in Bangkok, Thailand in late May.

Many officials, experts and scholars at the forum agreed that accelerating the development of solar energy is an important part of China’s economic restructuring. The country’s solar energy industry is progressing toward the forefront of the world. Although it enjoys broad prospects, a number of problems such as low electricity storage technology remain to be solved as soon as possible.

Introducing foreign technology to improve domestic technological levels

Several senior executives from the Asian Development Bank mentioned the importance of improving technology. The bank's Vice President Zhao Xiaoyu said that China is strong in the application of solar energy but needs to improve its technologies for purifying silicon and manufacturing solar panels. It should accelerate the introduction of advanced foreign technologies and enhance its technological level. Seethapathy Chander, director of the Asian Development Bank’s Department of Information Systems and Technology and chair of the bank's Energy Committee, said that it is urgent for Chinese solar energy companies to strengthen research and development in order to improve solar cell conversion efficiency.

Anil Terway, senior advisor at the Asian Development Bank's Regional and Sustainable Development Department and executive chairman of the bank’s Energy Committee, believes that Chinese solar energy companies and research institutes should strengthen cooperation and share more technological information. Furthermore, they should participate in more overseas cooperative projects and expand cooperation with foreign solar energy companies.

Cutting costs through technical innovation

High costs are a major issue restraining the development of China's solar energy sector. Liang Zhipeng, head of the renewable energy department under the National Energy Administration, said that many Chinese solar power enterprises have effectively lowered production costs. However, solar power generally has no apparent price advantages. Therefore, the enterprises should further step up technical innovation to lower solar power production costs.

Zhao said that the shift of silicon purification techniques from China to other developing countries in order to use low labor costs and construction materials in these developing countries would not only lower investment costs but also advance the South-South cooperation. Chander holds a similar view. He said that Chinese enterprises could outsource part of the entire industrial chain to other low-cost countries. Furthermore, boosting solar power output is also a good approach to lower costs. Solar power enterprises can cut costs by 15 percent on average by doubling their solar power output.

During the forum, attendants also said that as the payback period of investments in the solar energy sector is as long as 10 to 12 years, a medium and long-term financing platform should be established for the development of the solar energy sector. Zhao and Liang both believe that establishing funds is one of the means to raise funds for the solar energy sector despite its long payback period. Zhao said that a clean energy fund platform should also be established for the development of China's solar energy sector. The Asian Development Bank is establishing a clean energy financing and cooperative platform using funds from multiple donor countries. This platform will offer technical assistance and donations for the Asian Development Bank's clean energy projects and reduce technical, financing and policy risks of clean energy projects for project implementers.

Accelerate establishment of reasonable electricity prices

"Solar power systems have a high demand for land. Eastern China has limited land resources but a high demand for electricity. Although the land and solar energy resources are rich in western China, they are far from power load centers. Therefore, solar power can only be used or stored locally because the costs of long-distance transmission and distribution are too high. However, the costs of power-storage technologies are also very high," said Zhou Aiming, an energy expert from the Regional and Sustainable Development Bureau under the Asian Development Bank.

Li Heping, administrative deputy general manager of the China Huadian New Energy Technology Development Company, said that China's solar on-grid prices are still in the early stage of development. China is now promoting demonstration projects and accelerating the establishment of reasonable electricity prices. According to sources, developed countries such as Spain and the United States have adopted on-grid prices, which means that the government uniformly sets the electricity prices and the national grid must purchase all electricity that is produced by solar energy companies.

Thailand has also adopted an approach that is similar to providing subsidies regarding the rising solar power prices. It raised the on-grid prices of solar power and provided electricity subsidies to compensate investors with the difference between the expected profits each year and the actual electricity prices, which are calculated based on the payback period.

Chander believes in regards to exports, many solar power manufacturers in China are primarily targeting the European market. However, the European market has continued to shrink since the international financial crisis, while the solar power demand in Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is gradually rising. Therefore, China needs to turn its attention to stimulate domestic demand and meet the demand of Asia, especially Southeast Asia.

By Ji Peijuan People's Daily correspondent in Thailand, translated by People's Daily Online

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