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Asia Report: China Gets Serious About Culling its Solar Herd

China has some massive targets for solar energy (and renewable energy in general), but its famously overcrowded solar industry may finally be forced to trim to size -- after the government issued what reportedly amounts to a "death sentence" for three-quarters of companies in the sector.

China recently upped its 2014 solar targets to 12 GW, and the nation still plans to develop 35 GW of new solar capacity by the end of 2015. This fall, though, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued new rules to slow new solar plant construction and trim its bloated polysilicon industry. And days ago, the MIIT went even further by publishing a list of 109 domestic manufacturers (culled from an earlier list of 134) out of 500+ companies across the entire domestic solar value chain, identified based on a number of criteria from production to capacity utilization and technical prowess.

Those not on the list -- reportedly including Suntech and its new owner Jiangsu Shunfeng, and LDK Solar -- will be shut off from government support. That means no funding or credit lines or relief from refunds of export tariffs; they'll also be at a disadvantage in selling power to state-run utilities. The list reportedly will be revisited every six months, to see if those who originally missed the cut have improved their standing and can be included, or if any originally qualifying companies should be kicked out.

Taken together, the two MIIT moves are likely to usher in a long-called-for consolidation in China's solar industry, eliminating many unprofitable players and forcing others to band together or merge with more successful ones. And as the Nikkei points out, this unusual move by the Chinese government to turn its back on a large majority of uncompetitive players could be a precedent for other domestic industries under the spotlight for overcrowding and oversupply, from steel to construction materials.


IN THE NEWS

Half of 2014's Global PV Demand from Asia: The Asia Pacific region will account for half of all new solar PV demand in 2014, says NPD Solarbuzz, with more than 23 GW of installed capacity representing 35 percent growth from 2013, and dominated by China and Japan.

SolarWorld: Close the U.S-China Solar Tariff Loophole: Amid the details of the U.S.-China solar PV tariff case, was the way that the language seemed to allow Chinese companies to import cells made in other countries -- Taiwan, for example -- into panels assembled in China, thus avoiding tariff restrictions to ship the final product to the U.S. SolarWorld now wants that loophole closed -- though the U.S.' solar energy trade group, the Solar Energy Association (SEIA) -- is pushing back, urging negotiations and settlements instead of more litigation that is merely "a blunt instrument [...] incapable of resolving the complex competitiveness issues."

India Delays National Solar Auction, Again: The deadline for bids in India's upcoming 750-MW solar auction, the first in two years, has been pushed back by nearly a month to Jan. 20. Developers reportedly are skittish about the auction's structure and state-run utilities' ability to back it up, but Bridge to India thinks the delay will give extra time to provide more details and address concerns about the process.

CIGS in Asia: Hanergy, Samsung, Solar Frontier, Ascent: Samsung SDI says it has topped 15.7 percent efficiency for large-area (1.44 m2) CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium) thin-film solar PV modules; Solar Frontier is said to have held the previous record, with 14.7 percent efficiency on a 1.23-M2 substrate, and TSMC also has staked a claim at 15.7-efficient modules. The company's plans call for a 200-MW production line in 2014 and expanding to 1.2 GW in 2015. Meanwhile, Hanergy says its Miasole unit has produced a UL-certified 15.5-percent efficient CIGS panel, and its Solibro unit has demonstrated 19.6-percent efficiency on small-scale CIGS "sub-modules" (~5 cm2), improving upon a previous mark of 18.7 percent efficiency set in October. Speaking of Solar Frontier, the company is planning to build out another CIS solar module plant, this one a ¥13 billion 150-MW site in Miyagi Prefecture, online by 2015, to complement three existing plants in Miyazaki and the "blueprint for future manufacturing facilities outside of Japan," according to the company. Lastly, Ascent Solar has finalized a deal that it first announced this summer, committing to build a thin-film solar PV (CIGS) joint-venture plant with the municipality of Suqian in China's Jiangsu Province. The deal, which includes some generous terms such as a rent-free facility and a range of incentives, targets initial capacity of 25-MW by the first quarter of 2016, and ultimately 100 MW in six years.

Chinese PV Module Suppliers Forge Tie-Ups: Rounding up the latest Chinese module-maker news: Trina is teaming up with the Turpan regional government for up to 1-GW of solar projects over four years, and 300-MW by the end of 2014. ReneSola will sell three grid-connected solar projects totaling 60-MW capacity in China's western Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces to Jiangsu Akcome. And Yingli Green Energy has formed a joint venture with Shuozhou Coal Power Co., a unit of Datong Coal Mine Group which is the nation's third-largest state-owned coal mining company (read: a deep-pocketed, connected backer) to develop and build solar power plants in Shuozhou City, Shanxi Province.

Tata Postponing Solar Targets: The Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission has ruled that Tata Power can postpone its commitment to achieve solar procurement targets by as much as five years, out to 2016, citing a shortage of procurement candidates.

Japan Set to Lower Solar Tariffs? Japan may slash its pre-tax solar tariffs by as much as 11 percent to ¥32/kWh in the coming fiscal year beginning April 1, Bloomberg estimates, though tariffs for other renewable sources are seen unchanged. Surcharges to consumers may more than double to ¥0.77/kWh, though, as solar installations widen.

Offshore Wind Approval in China: GD Power Development says its business unit's proposed 250-MW, RMB 4.45 billion (U.S. $733 million) offshore wind plant, about 13 km offshore from Liuheng in Zhejiang Province, is the first to be approved local Development and Reform Commission. And that's exactly what China needs more of, argues the South China Morning Post in an op-ed, saying estimates of offshore wind costs and tariffs would not be prohibitive and might even be inaccurate. Comparing China's proposed offshore wind prospects to the beginnings and trajectory of Denmark's wind sector a decade ago, the paper invokes an old Chinese proverb: "a thousand-mile journey starts with your first footsteps."


A DEEPER LOOK

Myanmar: A Blank Slate for Renewables: Three years after Myanmar’s transition to civilian leadership led to the end of trade embargoes and a rapid embrace of technology, the country still labors under a barely functioning telecommunications network and a power grid that only reaches a third of the population. That lack of infrastructure, however, also presents a blank slate for renewable energy and minigrids. Our international correspondent Tim Ferry reports on Myanmar's huge renewables potential.

Why Businesses Need to Tap India's Solar Market: A widening energy supply/demand gap, reduced and more expensive conventional power, more policy support, and expiring diesel subsidies are just some of the reasons why domestic businesses need to start betting on India's solar energy sector, says Bhupesh Trivedi. (Meanwhile, demand for clean-energy credits continues to rise.)


ON THE HORIZON

How Indian Utilities Can Survive the Renewables Revolution: Big utilities are facing the same market-changing forces with expanding renewable energy adoption that IBM faced in the 1980s with the emergence of PCs, and phone companies faced in the 1990s with mobile phone technology -- find new roles in these new realities, or quickly fade to history. Tobias Engelmeier from Bridge to India walks through the options to adapt and become more flexible.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

December 12 -December 17, 2013 Asia Report: Three Ways to Ensure India's Bright Solar Future

November 30-December 11, 2013 Asia Report: Revisiting Japan's Solar Demand, and Nuclear Comeback

November 12-November 29, 2013 Asia Report: Why India's Solar Market Looks Brighter in 2014

October 22-November 11, 2013 Asia Report: China Ascending to Solar PV Pinnacle

Lead image: Chinese dragon at dusk, via Shutterstock

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