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Asia Report: China Ascending to Solar PV Pinnacle

China has been the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer for several years now, but it's also emerging as a massive end-market.

Global solar PV demand reached 9 GW in 3Q13, up 6 percent from the prior quarter and nearly 20 percent from a year ago, according to Solarbuzz. China's share of that 3Q demand exceeded 25 percent, compared to 10 percent just two years ago. Meanwhile, Chinese production throughout the crystalline silicon supply chain was anywhere from 8-11 GW.

That domestic demand ramp-up is boosting China's suppliers, especially given the decline in European demand, points out Solarbuzz senior analyst Michael Barker. "With the importance and risk attached to European shipments having been significantly lowered during 2013, the ability to pick-and-choose more profitable supply arrangements while increasing shipment levels will come as welcome news to a PV industry as it recovers from its highly unprofitable phase of 2012," he writes.

And China's not looking back. The National Energy Administration reportedly has increased its 2014 targets for solar PV capacity to 12 GW instead of 10 GW. Of that, up to 8 GW would be from decentralized solar PV. The State Council has said solar capacity should stay at the 10-GW/year pace through 2015, reaching 35 GW cumulatively installed by the end of 2015.

IN THE NEWS

Singapore Adding Solar Power to Grid Goals: Singapore's Energy Market Authority is launching a review of its regulatory framework "to better account for the benefits and externalities" of renewable energy sources, most especially solar. Speaking at Singapore International Energy Week, S. Iswaran, a minister for trade and industry, indicated the first step is nearly doubling its cap on intermittent generation sources to 600 MWp, while building up solar forecasting competencies. The EMA's consultation paper is now online, and soliciting feedback through the end of January. (Another tidbit from Iswaran's speech: Singapore wants to build up an electricity futures market to offer long-term pricing and hedge against price volatility, hopeful to launch sometime in the first half of 2014.)

Japan's First Floating Offshore Wind Turbine Now Online: A 2-MW hybrid spar floating offshore wind pilot project near Fukushima has begun generating power. The group plans two more turbines with 7-MW capacity each, ultimately hoping for up to 143 turbines and a gigawatt of generation capacity.

Shunfeng Set To Acquire Suntech: Shunfeng Photovoltaic (SF-PV), a company that is partially owned by Cheng Kin Ming, who also owns a chunk of struggling LDK Solar, reportedly is the winning bidder for former Chinese solar leader Suntech, despite a last-minute bid from Wuxi Guolian. Suntech also has filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the Cayman Islands, seeking to avoid a forced Chapter 7 proceeding pursued in the U.S. by investors who have vowed to "never rest" until they get to the bottom of who's owed what.

Japan Mulling New Tariffs for Offshore Wind: Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is forming a six-member committee to explore setting a new procurement price for offshore wind, which for now is the same as onshore wind (¥23.1 over 20 years). Specifically they'll look at fixed-bottom type offshore projects first thanks to the emergence of demonstration projects and data. A first meeting is happening later this month, with a report due by the end of the year.

Solar DG Debate Surfaces Down Under: The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has unveiled a list of "strategic priorities" in which solar PV is highlighted as a pressing issue for both electricity producers and consumers, citing "stakeholder concern" that "network costs" for customers using rooftop solar PV are being subsidizing by everyone else, and that "the full costs and benefits of distributed generation (such as solar PV) are not reflected in the prices consumers pay for electricity." AEMC says it will respond to a request by the Standing Council on Energy and Resources (SCER) to assess and change distribution pricing agreements, to weight network charges "on the drivers of network costs as far as possible." Solar industry advocates point out the AEMC's own admission that air conditioning is a far bigger subsidy burden than solar PV, with five times the network costs than anything else -- but of course air conditioners don't offer an offset to generation, thus challenging the utility business model.

Japan's Largest Solar PV Plant Online: The 70-MW Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan, came online November 1, billed as the country's largest utility-scale solar power plant. The plant was built and supplied by Kyocera in collaboration with six other companies, financed by Mizuho Corporate Bank. A visitor's center offers elevated views of the 290,000 panel operation, against the backdrop of the ocean and Sakurajima volcano.

Taiwan Eyes Offshore Wind Pilots: Two companies have gained an initial nod from the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) to develop a pair of 3-MW offshore wind power projects by 2015, off the coasts of Miaoli and Changhua counties and County. Taiwan is targeting four to six offshore wind energy pilot projects online by 2015, gradually building up to 300 MW by 2020 and 3 GW by 2030, more twice the size of onshore wind estimates.

Honda: No More CIGS: Honda Soltec is shutting its doors in the spring of 2014 and will no longer make thin-film solar PV (CIGS) modules. Despite fighting the good fight with a less-energy-consumption manufacturing process, the business "does not have good prospects to attain its original business plan," parent company Honda stated. New orders will be accepted until mid-February of next year, and parent company affiliate Honda Kaihatsu will manage after-sales service to existing customers. The business, established in December 2006 with total investment of around ¥700 million, employed 91 workers.


ON THE HORIZON

Indian Solar Projects Picking Up the Pace: Solar energy projects in India are seen gathering momentum thanks to state-level support, though subsidies aren't necessarily the best long-term plan, noted government reps speaking at a solar hot water meeting in Hyderabad. They noted the increased adoption of solar water heaters in Maharashtra and Karnataka but not elsewhere -- including Andhra Pradesh -- despite various incentives and government encouragement. Meanwhile, the MNRE is looking at four potential "ultra-mega power projects" (UMPP); the first one in Rajasthan, led by Bhel BSE and Solar Energy Corp., has already broken ground with the first 1-GW phase to be completed within three years. The remaining 3-GW of proposed UMPP would be issued as tenders in 500-MW blocks.

Asia to Lead Biomass Power Production: Asian countries will build out biomass energy capacity at an rate of 1 GW annually by 2020, twice the rate of Europe, and surpassing that region in both plants and capacity, according to Research and Markets. Leading the charge: China, Japan, and Korea, thanks to government targets to increase domestic energy output and reduce reliance on foreign energy supplies.


A DEEPER LOOK

IPPs Can Compete in India's Solar Market ... By Waiting: India's solar market is now over the 2 GW mark cumulatively through September of this year, toward a goal of 1.1 GW by the end of the current fiscal year ending March 2014. But intense competition for solar projects is having an impact on independent power producers (IPP) because they don't have the advantages of tax incentives such as accelerated depreciation. The answer may not be in direct competition, but in collaboration, points out Bridge to India's Jasmeet Khurana.

Shifting Directions in India's Wind Farm Development: Continuum Wind Energy aims to build nearly 1.4 GW of wind energy capacity by 2017, almost all of it on its own -- abandoning the practice set by turbine makers Suzlon and Vestas which build projects as a turnkey basis. Bloomberg takes a closer look.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

October 3-October 22, 2013 Asia Report: Four Reasons Why Solar Can Unseat Coal in India This Decade

September 4-October 2, 2013 Asia Report: Five Reasons Why China's Solar Demand Could Surprise You

August 8-September 3, 2013 Asia Report: What's Driving, And Hampering, India's Wind Market Momentum

Lead image: Shanghai Bund skyline landmark, via Shutterstock

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