China’s solar industry continued to grab headlines in 2018. However, it was for less positive reasons than in 2017.
While China’s PV policy announcement dominated the headlines in Q2 2018, there were a lot of other significant happenings in the world of solar, not least the EU’s 32% renewable energy targets, rumors of U.S. tariffs on inverters, PV records in Germany, and unexpected new partnerships. Read on to discover the highlights from April to June.
The two biggest names in the U.S. solar trade fight announced they would become one company in April. Three weeks after CEO, Tom Werner told Bloomberg and Reuters that SunPower was looking around for a location to site U.S. manufacturing, the company revealed that this production will not be a greenfield site, but actually the factory of its bitter foe in the Section 201 trade case. This means SunPower will again be a U.S. manufacturer, and SolarWorld Inc. will begin producing P-Series modules.
The South African renewable energy industry rejoiced as the outstanding PPAs were finally signed on April 4.
In another report, GTM Research found that 2017 global inverter shipments increased 23%, while revenues grew 11%, thus representing another record year. A market first, three-phase string inverter shipments overtook those of central inverters.
In the realm of electric vehicles (EVs), ABB launched what it said was the world’s fastest EV charger. The Terra High Power charger can charge an EV in just eight minutes, it said, thus adding up to 200 km of range.
Shortly before it rocked the PV world, statistics from China showed that at 9.65 GW, Q1 installations were up significantly on 2016 and 2017, which saw new capacities of 7.14 and 7.2 GW, respectively. Confirming predictions that installs would veer away from utility-scale, which until now had been the dominant sector, the quarter saw a massive increase in DG: 1.97 GW versus 7.68 GW. In percentage terms, this represented an overall increase of 22% YoY, while utility saw a 64% decrease, and DG a massive 217% increase.
Marking another first, the pv magazine group and energía hoy launched pv magazine Mexico in April, to cover the fast growing Mexican solar PV market.
The Middle East continues its slow but steady solar march, with Tunisia unveiling a 500 MW tender in May. The plan is to build a 200 MW solar plant in the province of Tatouine, the Sahara Desert, two 100 MW PV facilities in the provinces of Kaiouran and Gafsca, and two more 50 MW solar parks in the provinces of Sidi Bouzid and Tozeur. The launch of the tender came a week after the closing of a 70 MW solar tender, which was announced a year previously.
Strengthening their storage ties, Panasonic announced that it may begin producing lithium-ion battery batteries in China in partnership with Tesla. The announcement came from the company’s CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga, although as is so often the case, no more details were provided about the factory’s size or the required investment for project.
In a sign of things to come, California featured predominantly in May’s headlines with the news that it had set a new record for peak output of utility-scale solar at more than 10.5 GW. It also hit a new record for the instantaneous portion of demand met by renewable energy on April 28, at 73%, just 15 minutes before the solar record, with solar and wind alone meeting 64% of demand.
Also this month, a research team from U.S.-based Stanford University announced the development of a prototype of a manganese-hydrogen battery for the storage of power produced by large-scale wind and solar facilities. The prototype of the water-based battery may only be three inches tall and able to generate 20 milliwatt hours of electricity, however the researchers believe the device could reach an industrial scale, thus becoming able to “charge and recharge up to 10,000 times.”
All of this news became irrelevant, however, following a notification released by the China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Finance, and National Energy Administration (NEA) on May 31, which laid out new regulatory measures for PV installations in the country in 2018. Among the changes, it was said that there will be no new subsidized ground mounted PV projects, while a 10 GW quota was placed on distributed PV.
And let the games begin
June ended up being one hell of a busy month news-wise, thanks primarily to China’s announcement. As many pointed out, the industry should have seen it coming; it nevertheless was still an abrupt bit of policy meddling, which is never a good idea.
At the off, predictions started flying, with analysts feverishly publishing reports recalculating their 2018 outlooks and price trends. BloombergNEF said it expected to see a 34% decline in multicrystalline solar module prices in China, which would be roughly equivalent to the fall in module prices in 2016, and only exceeded by the 40% fall in prices in 2011. It provided a benchmark monocrystalline module price of US$0.37 per watt for the fourth quarter of 2017, and said it expected this to fall to just $0.24/watt by the end of the year. That was on June 5.
Then during Intersolar Europe, on June 21, reports of a global PV module price collapse came flooding in, with PVInsights estimating that average PV module prices had fallen to $0.278 per watt for standard multicrystalline modules, while multi-PERC modules came in at an average of $0.337 per watt, and mono-PERC modules at $0.363 per watt. Taiwan-based EnergyTrend also reported average prices of $0.295 per watt to $0.367 per watt, depending on the module type.
TrendForce further estimated that negative growth will be recorded this year in the global market – around 5-8% – to fall to 92 to 95 GW. This compares to the 98 to 99 GW that were installed in 2017; and is more bleak than both IHS Markit’s – which revised its expectations down from 113 GW to 105 GW – and SolarPower Europe’s, which expects to see 102 rather than 107 GW this year.
In other news, the EU agreed on a 32% renewable target by 2030, after all-night negotiations. The new is binding and, according to the EU Commission’s statement, may be subject to upwards revision by 2023.
Meanwhile, in less positive news, in the United States announced it may slap an additional 25% tariff on Chinese cells and modules, via Section 301. Also in the country, a proposal by Xcel Energy saw the world’s largest li-ion battery and 707 MW pitched for Colorado. The plan featured a total of five solar power plants, three of which include energy storage.
A new record was set in Germany, with PV systems producing just under 6 TWh of solar power during the month of May; while in France bold announcements were made regarding the development of new solar capacity. Namely, Total unveiled a plan to install 10 GW over 10 years; and the country’s Ministry of Defense said it will make around 2,000 hectares of surfaces available for solar projects to be realized by 2025.
Two of the industry’s biggest inverter players also locked horns this month when SolarEdge filed a lawsuit against Huawei, alleging that the latter’s residential inverters use an architecture, which violates its patents. Huawei said it was “evaluating the claims”, however it does not believe it infringed any valid patent rights.
Finally, there was good news for Schletter, which filed for insolvency in March, when Golden Square Capital’s acquisition plan was finalized.