China is the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels and its intermediates like crystalline silicon ingots, wafers and cells. The country is also the biggest exporter of solar panels with exports of nearly $35 billion in 2011 alone. However the massive oversupply and bankruptcy of western solar companies has led to a massive backlash against the big Chinese solar panel producers. USA has already imposed anti dumping duties while Europe is in the process of doing so. Due to its heavy dependence on solar exports, the Chinese Government and industry have few cards to play like imposing duties on imports of polysilicon where China is weak. However the country has refrained from doing so as it would hurt its solar panel manufactures which uses polysilicon as raw material.
The worst fears of the Chinese solar panel producers have come true with Europe starting the history’s biggest anti dumping case against their products. A trade group called ProSun led by German solar panel maker Solarworld, complained against super cheap imports of solar modules from China to the EU 45 days ago. The EU has found there is a case to be heard and has started the anti-dumping measures against 21 billion euros of Chinese solar panel imports and the case will be completed in 15 months time. If found to be true, Chinese solar panels could be levied with heavy duties for a period of 5 years.
Unlike the US – China solar panel spat, EU is a much bigger fight as China imports most of its production to Europe particularly countries like Germany and Italy. In fact, the Chinese solar growth has been largely driven by the solar subsidy policies in the European countries. Until last year, almost 95% of the Chinese solar panel production was exported to Europe. Europe accounts for almost 75% of the world’s demand of solar panels and has been instrumental in the growth of the Chinese solar industry. Note China accounts for less than 10% of the demand, while it supplies almost 60-70% of the global supply of solar panels. While the US was a small market comparatively, Europe is a huge market and the loss of this market will sound the death knell of the biggest Chinese companies.
Taiwan jumping from Chinese Sinking Ship
The lack of response from the Chinese Government and the imminent threat of European duties have made some solar manufacturers flee the Chinese mainland. Taiwanese solar cell and module makers are now thinking of reversing the investment flows. Some companies like Motech and Del Solar which established factories in China to take advantage of the cheaper material and labor costs are planning to send the equipment back to Taiwan. This will help the companies escape the wrath of the western governments. Note some of the biggest Chinese companies are already on the verge of bankruptcy (Suntech and LDK) and any action by Europe will push the final nails in the coffin.
China-based solar firms are currently facing anti-dumping investigations in the EU. Many Taiwan-based firms that have set up plants in China are also included as targets of the investigation. Firms such as Motech and DelSolar are reportedly considering moving equipment back to Taiwan. However, both firms have denied the rumors.
Market observers believe DelSolar may be hit the hardest among Taiwan-based solar firms by the investigation as the firm has most of its capacity located in China. DelSolar indicated that there are no plans to move capacity back from China.