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China reflects on solar panel growth


Chinese authorities are to launch an investigation of quality standards in China’s solar panel industry, the largest in the world, underlining Beijing’s growing efforts to regulate runaway growth among clean energy manufacturers.

China is also the world’s largest producer of wind turbines, and Chinese manufacturers have rapidly stolen market share from their western competitors in recent years because of their cost advantage.

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However, there are signs that the Chinese government is cracking down on quality standards in certain clean energy industries. The solar panel industry lacks a domestic certification programme for panels, or photovoltaic modules.

“A nationwide quality investigation will be done soon,” said Ma Xuelu, chief strategy officer for Yingli Solar and council member of the Chinese Renewable Energy Institute. “China’s photovoltaic industry is fledgling, so the survey will facilitate the standardisation of the industry and healthy development of solar firms.”

China’s solar module production capacity has tripled in the last two years to reach 17.6GW this year, or 62 per cent of global manufacturing capacity, according to data provider iSuppli. Of that capacity, roughly 22 per cent is for “tier three” producers who would be most likely to be affected by a quality crackdown. Analysts say 2010 was such a good year for solar manufacturers globally that it prompted a wave of copycat entrepreneurial activity in China as businessmen set up small solar manufacturing firms.

“A lot of people looked at this and said we will throw a few million at this and make a lot of money,” said Joseph Quinn, analyst at Macquarie Bank. “Some of them are setting up false facilities where they are not making anything, they are just buying modules and sending them on . . . Or even buying the cell and selling it to the next person, claiming it is their own.”

Such a move could be a boost to competitors in the global solar industry if the investigation temporarily slows China’s production. Solar manufacturers had been braced for a tough year ahead as governments cut solar energy subsidies.

China’s dominance in clean energy has prompted complaints from manufacturers outside China, as well as a US Trade Representative investigation into possible subsidies to Chinese turbine makers.

Although the timing for the investigation is still unclear, analysts said that any crackdown on quality was likely to have the greatest impact on smaller, lower end manufacturers selling into the Chinese market. China’s largest solar panel manufacturers already meet US and European Union standards and sell primarily to overseas markets.








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