The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.

Q-Cells and Hanwha: Solar Geopolitics Gets Messy

The pending sale of bankrupted Q-Cells, once the largest solar cell maker in the world, to Korea-based Hanwha Group is the latest reminder that playing geopolitics in the world of solar will only get harder.

The creditors of the German company agreed to the sale with a vote on Wednesday, though the sale still requires regulatory approval before it’s finalized. Hanwha will gain a sterling silicon solar cell maker by buying Q-Cells, which was the reigning cell maker back in 2008, before it ceded the spot thanks to the financial market crash and the rise of well-financed Chinese solar cell makers.

Though silicon solar technology was the core of its technology portfolio, Q-Cells, when it was in better financial health, experimented with different thin film processes and gambled with the idea of using refined, metallurgical-grade silicon as a substitute for the more expensive and purer silicon to make cells. It also entered into the solar power plant development business. The company filed for bankruptcy in April this year.

Despite its financial trouble, Q-Cells remains a symbol of good Germany solar engineering. And now it’s set to look to a Korean conglomerate for directions about its future. Several Korean conglomerates have scooped up or at least taken a stake in many solar companies in recent years. Hanwha took over China-based Solarfun Power and renamed it Hanwha SolarOne. It invested in several American startups, a solar energy system developer tenKsolar, installer OneRoof Energy and silicon wafer makers 1366 Technologies and Crystal Solar. Hanwha bought Solar Monkey to enter the power plant development business — the company formally announced its entry earlier this summer. It also invested in energy storage developer Silent Power.

Hanwha’s aggressive push into the solar market is taking place at a time when tension is rising between Chinese solar manufacturers and some of their rivals in the U.S. and Europe.  SolarWorld, a German solar cell and panel maker, led a trade complaint in the U.S. and Europe against Chinese silicon solar cell makers over the past years. The complaint alleges that Chinese companies have received unfair subsidies from Chinese government and flooded the market with cells that are below fair market value. The trade case reflects the intensifying competition among solar manufacturers in a market that has been plagued by a gross oversupply of solar panels. Many companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia already have filed for bankruptcy or shrunk their operations in the past year and a half.

U.S. authorities already are imposing preliminary tariffs on imported Chinese cells after finding merits to SolarWorld’s case. They are scheduled to make a final decision on the tariffs before the year ends. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, is seeking to play the mediator in the European case.

Which side should a company like Hanwha take in this battle against Chinese companies? Hanwha SolarOne’s executives told me during a meeting at Intersolar in San Francisco in July that the company wasn’t “immune to the challenges of the marketplace” in terms of manufacturing, but they saw good opportunities to invest in different solar sectors at the same time. To avoid the preliminary tariffs on China-made solar cells, the company is using solar cells from Taiwan to make panels for the U.S. market (other Chinese companies are doing the same).

Although the solar manufacturing sector is suffering, the project development and installation business is thriving, particularly in countries with government mandates and incentives, such as the U.S., India, China and Japan. The growth has come in part because of the rapidly declining solar panel prices and efforts to reduce in other areas, such as securing permits and simplify installation methods. For solar energy proponents, all the competition and resulting price reduction of solar equipment is a good thing. They see a trade complaint as an attempt to stall the move toward a greater goal: to make solar electricity as cheaply as power from fossil fuels.

The sentiment that Chinese companies haven’t played fair isn’t coming only from SolarWorld and those who have joined SolarWorld’s trade complaints. But executives at many non-Chinese manufacturing companies will only be diplomatic when they are on the record to discuss the trade dispute. And they do so because they know that drawing a line between China and the rest of the world isn’t a good idea when there is a growing interdependence among companies of various nationalities to grow their business in the global market. Hanwha’s acquisition of Q-Cells is a good reminder of that. 

RELATED ARTICLES

Renewable Energy Finance

Clean Energy ETFs Are on a Tear

Eric Balchunas, Bloomberg Green investing used to be synonymous with losing money. But while the S&P 500 Index is up 2 percent this year, and the MSCI All-Country World Index is up 5 percent, clean energy ETFs have double-digit re...

Wheels, Towers and Trees: Unconventional Renewable Energy Technologies in the Pipeline

Andrew Williams, International Correspondent A number of companies around the world are developing novel technologies in an effort to grab a slice of the global renewable energy market.  Although many of these technologies are simple incremental improvements to e...
UK Parliament Clean Energy Leaders

UK Government Names Clean Energy Cabinet Members

David Appleyard, Contributing Editor With the UK general election now over and a majority Conservative Party government in place, the re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron has now named key members of the government charged with steering the UK’s clean energ...
Microgrids

Coast to Coast and Across the Electric System, Microgrids Provide Benefits to All

Dick Munson, Environmental Defense Fund At the most obvious level, microgrids could disrupt today’s utilities and their regulated-monopoly business model, because they challenge the centralized paradigm. In a nutshell, microgrids are localized power grids that ha...
Ucilia Wang is a California-based freelance journalist who writes about renewable energy. She previously was the associate editor at Greentech Media and a staff writer covering the semiconductor industry at Red Herring. In addition to Renewable En...

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

03/01/2015
Volume 18, Issue 3
file

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

EU PVSEC 2015 (European PV Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition)

The EU PVSEC is the largest international Conference for Photovoltaic re...

CA Wine Industry's 2015 Solar Update- WEBINAR

Proceeds from event registration will go to the CA Sustainable Win...

Energy Security: Opportunity Power with the Sunny Boy Secure Power ...

Wouldn’t it be great to have a grid-tied inverter that could still...

COMPANY BLOGS

EU PVSEC 2014 extends its Scope

Added focus on application and policy topicsAbstracts for conference con...

EU PVSEC 2014: Call for Papers Receives Great Response

More than 1,500 contributions apply for presentation in AmsterdamScienti...

Boulder County Residents Generate Their Own Energy with Community S...

Despite a soggy afternoon, solar energy advocates gathered at ...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS