New Hampshire, USA -- The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted — unanimously — to move ahead in its investigation of Taiwanese imports of solar PV products, continuing the latest storyline in the broad U.S.-vs.-China solar trade war.
This latest and not unexpected move, which was spurred by a new petition at the end of December, seeks to close a loophole in the earlier trade ruling by which Chinese solar PV companies can circumvent tariffs by having cells made elsewhere before being reassembled for export.
The usual sides have redrawn familiar battle lines applauding and decrying the decision and continued pressure. SolarWorld America president Mukesh Dulani invoked the example of Oregon neighbor and semiconductor leader Intel as proof that U.S. manufacturing can succeed, "so please do not tell us that U.S. manufacturers who pioneered and built the solar industry cannot compete globally under conditions of fair trade." Jigar Shah, on behalf of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, points out that the dispute hits the U.S. solar industry heaviest in the installation end, jobs that aren't easily replaced.
In an interesting twist, Chinese companies Yingli and Hanwha have petitioned the U.S Department of Commerce to represent Taiwan solar PV interests. The initial investigation of China, which is not technically a market economy, presented challenges in obtaining and analyzing the country's solar PV participants chosen as examples. Taiwan, though, technically is a market economy, and the D.O.C. has more flexibility in whom and how it can choose to look at for specific numbers about production, costs, and sales. Taiwanese companies reportedly don't want to be represented by mainland Chinese solar PV interests, and have sought and reportedly obtained support from Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The I.T.C. will present its views to the DOC on Feb. 24; preliminary determination of countervailing duties are due on March 26, and an antidumping duty ruling is expected by the second week of June. A final ruling could take a full year to come down.
IN THE NEWS
Solar in India, Domestic and Local Update: The U.S. has filed a petition with the World Trade Organization challenging domestic content provisions within India's "Phase II" of its National Solar Mission (NSM). If no resolution happens within 60 days the U.S. may press for a formal WTO panel to settle the issue — but that could take several years, so expect a desire for a more bilateral decision in the meantime, especially given the WTO's earlier ruling against similar domestic content policies in Ontario. At a more local level, the Tamil Nadu State Electricity Regulatory Commission has adjusted its solar energy "roadmap" that puts more responsibility on the state utility Tangedco to meet mandatory targets, rather than on large energy users. The previous plan "had the potential to stop the implementation of the state's solar policy in its tracks," writes Bridge to India, and the new version will likely be a burden on distributors. Yet that plan also "was an innovative tool that could have helped make solar more market-driven," the firm says. "The effort of the Tamil Nadu state government to continue to try and make solar work in the state must be lauded."
Japan Culling Underperforming Solar Producers: Fulfilling a promise it made last year, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is warning that over the next six months it will cancel approvals for hundreds of solar power plant operators who have lagged in getting facilities and land approved. In a recent study, METI confirmed that barely a fifth of roughly 4,700 large-scale solar plants ( >400 kW) that applied for the feed-in tariff are actually up and running.
Yingli, Trina Dominate Solar Rankings: Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar shipped more than 5.8 GW of solar PV modules in 2013, good enough for 15 percent of the market all by themselves, according to SolarBuzz analysis. Yingli built on its first-place position in module shipments, and also became the top solar PV cell producer in 2013 for the first time.
Can China's Solar Sector Avoid Wind Sector's Woes? China's solar sector, with overcapacity on one side yet booming installations on the other, needs to heed lessons learned from the overbuilding "binge" that caused "growing pains and low returns" by the domestic wind industry from 2011-2012, says the South China Morning Post.
Massive Wind Farm Down Under: The South Australian Government has approved Ceres' $1.5 billion, 600-MW wind farm It's expected to be the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere when completed in 2016.
Headwinds for Japan's Wind Sector? The Japan Wind Power Association is calling for a more streamlined process for environmental assessments, claiming the wind energy sector is being held back compared with other renewable energy sectors. At the other end of the scale, though, mega-solar power plants are producing just a fraction of their authorized output, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is mulling the causes of the delays (lack of funding, developers holding out for more attractive profits, grid interconnection complexities, even failure to secure land rights) and may cancel approvals for some developers who aren't progressing quickly enough.
Aleo Finds Its Solar White Knight: A consortium of companies has agreed to take over aleo solar group. SCP Solar, consisting of Taiwan's Sunrise Global Solar and parent firm Pan Asia Solar, and Japan's Choshu Industry, will pay €1 for the module production facility in Prenzlau; aleo will pay SCP a "negative purchase price" of €10 million, while main shareholder Robert Bosch will pay €31 million in compensation to aleo.
More Renewable In Tokyo: Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe pledged to increase the metropolitan's usage of renewable energy from six percent to 20 percent, through creation of a ¥4 billion public-private fund. The Tohoku region, center of the March 2011 quake/tsunami disaster, would receive special focus for siting renewable energy facilities as an economic revitalization effort, he said.
EV Batteries for Large-Scale Storage: Sumitomo has installed a prototype large-scale power storage system (600kW/400kWh) using reused batteries from electric vehicles. The system on Yume-shima Island in Osaka, set to begin operating this month, will be used to smooth energy output from the nearby Hikari-no-mori solar farm.
Groundbreaking for Australia's Largest PV Plant: First Solar has begun building AGL Energy's 102-MW (AC) solar plant in Nyngan, New South Wales, said to be the largest such site not only in Australia but the entire Southern Hemisphere. It is expected to be completed in mid-2015. FSLR and AGL already are building another 53-MW plant in Broken Hill, NSW, due to be online this summer.
Asia's Largest Solar Airport Online: The Kansai International Airport's 11.6-MW solar plant is officially online, built by Solar Frontier. The project took seven months to complete, and uses the company's thin-film modules which it says have better anti-glare properties to avoid reflection affecting aircraft operations.
Biomass in the Philippines: A 20-MW biomass plant powered by rice husks in the Isabela province will likely begin operations in about a year, according to local reports.
Skyscraper as a Wind Farm: We saw this late last year, but it remains cool: a 99-story building in Indonesia built as a wind funnel to harvest wind energy.
A DEEPER LOOK
Micro Hydro Energy in Nepal: The World Bank describes its work in establishing more than 1,000 micro-hydro plants in rural Nepalese communities, and the major positive changes it has created in villages.
Calling for micro-utilities in India: Given its famously creaky infrastructure, India is a perfect place for proliferation of micro-electric utilities — as many as a quarter-million of them. Mahesh Bhave, Indian Institute of Management runs through the numbers.
More Renewable Energy for Japan? Fix The Grids First: The Japan Times takes a look at Japan's energy shift away from nuclear and toward renewables, with a kind of progress report by renewables sector. Grid infrastructure remains a hurdle, though, and costs to consumers are likely to be higher than with nuclear.
ON THE HORIZON
Softbank Eyes Clean Energy Retail Sales: Softbank's SB Power wants to start selling power to retail channels starting this spring, tapping power from its own solar and wind projects and from other developers. The company also plans to develop 290 MW by the end of fiscal 2015, and could sell power direct to households by 2016 when the power market opens up.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Lead image: USA and Indian grunge flag, via Shutterstock