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Claims of Faulty Data in EU-China Solar Trade Case Now Under Investigation

In an update to our coverage of questions raised about the European Commission’s investigation into alleged Chinese solar panel dumping, new reports say the Commission has notified the analysis firm which provided the data on Europe’s solar market that it will itself be investigated.

Reuters has reported that, in a letter earlier this month, the EC told the firm, Europressedienst, that “The purpose of the verification is to check the macroeconomic statistics that you provided on 23 April 2013, the related methodology submitted on 6 May 2013 and any other information relevant to this proceeding.”  

At a recent meeting with the Commission, anti-duties group the Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE) pointed out that Europressedienst’s data on EU solar production and consumption had been used by pro-duties group EU ProSun in its initial complaint, which began the trade case. AFASE said this called into question the data’s impartiality and accuracy.

Paulette Vander Schueren, AFASE's legal representative, said the EC looked at "data on European consumption, imports from China but also other countries, production by EU producers, market share etc. Partially, for indicators like prices or production costs, they took specific data from questionnaire responses by EU producers. For the rest they decided to look at overall production and sales in Europe, and because there were almost no responses from all 200 EU producers they looked for a firm with a database that could provide this information. A number of market surveyors – IMS, Bloomberg, Clean Energy Pipeline, Solarbuzz etc – are well-known to the industry, but instead of taking these companies they took Europressedienst." Data from Europressedienst, Vander Schueren said, was collected and analysed "on a methodology and basis that we believe doesn't show accuracy and the credibility required, and it has been invoked in the complaint by EU ProSun."

The EC has denied that the data in question influenced the case’s outcome. According to a spokesman, the Commission used Europressedienst to provide general data, such as overall solar panel sales volumes, production and employee numbers; for detailed data such as selling prices, production costs and profits the EC said it used data from its own questionnaires.  However, AFASE says that only seven questionnaires were returned from European solar companies, which is why the EC turned to an analysis firm for details about the solar market.

AFASE also raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest, as Europressedienst had previously worked for both EU Prosun and SolarWorld, Europe’s largest solar panel manufacturer. EU ProSun’s president, Milan Nitzschke, is vice president at SolarWorld.

Nitzschke has confirmed that the trade association used Europressedienst’s data in its complaint, but said there had been no agreement with the firm to present an inflated view of Europe’s solar panel production. He said SolarWorld had employed the director of Europressedienst for marketing and publication work, but that the director had not worked for the company on the trade case. 

Europressedienst has declined to comment, referring enquiries to the EC. The investigation is ongoing.

Read more solar energy news here.

Lead image: magnifying glass via Shutterstock

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Tildy Bayar is a journalist focusing on the energy sector. She is a former Associate Editor on RenewableEnergyWorld.com and Renewable Energy World magazine.

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