USA recently signed a Military Law which obliges the US Defense Forces to buy Solar Panels which are made in the USA.This “Buy American” proposal directly contradicts US actions and policy which advocates free trade in Green Energy.The US Steelworkers Trade Union recently filed a petition with the US Administration against subsidies being given to the Green Industry by China.US government officials also spoke against the “domestic content” requirements of the Indian Solar Subsidy Policy JNNSM.However when it comes to their own solar panel procurement,the US government has foolishly forced its military forces to buy USA made panels.Not that this will help in boosting the US industry too much,as a number of foreign solar panel producers like Solarworld,Suntech already have module making factories in the United States.Also it remains doubtful about how many solar panels the US Military will buy in the coming years.It will remain a fraction of the global solar demand.Instead of supporting US Solar companies like Evergreen Solar,Energy Conversion Devices which are fighting to survive,the administration has given billion dollar loans to a Spanish Solar Thermal Producer.
Sunpower has been the dog of the solar market in 2010 as competitive pressures from low cost Chinese companies have made investors question the long term sustainability of the company.But Sunpower has managed to survive with some smart deals like the manufacturing JV with AUO and focusing on the solar project development.Sunpower makes the world’s most efficient solar crystalline panels but comes at a much higher cost.This has led to erosion of its marketshare as cutthroat Asian companies have ruthlessly cuts prices and costs of solar panels.Sunpower has lost its dominant position in the US residential market with major Chinese companies like Trina,Suntech,Yingli and Canadian Solar winning large chunks.However Sunpower management has been a trier all along with its management constantly looking for ways to survive and proper .It has also started using less efficient solar panels for its projects as part of its strategy to compete.
Asset Financing for utility grade projects accounted for $128 billion while a substantial amount was also raised for Green IPOs notably Enel Green Power,Goldwind,Datang,Longyuan etc.The figure does not include M&A figures not that there were any big bang acquisitions though a number of M&A activities took place in the Smart Grid space.Government individually ramped up the subsidies for Green Industries despite a failure to arrive at a meaningful global agreement to reduce carbon emissions in the Copenhagen Meet.Most of the investments tool place as countries increasingly jockey for the top spot in the emerging Green Industry.Conglomerates like Samsung,GE,Mitsubishi,Siemens have made Green Industry the focus of their management focus and investment leading to the astounding 39% growth.Note Green Advocates have said that $500 billion in annual investments will be required by 2020 to restrict carbon emissions to a tolerable level.
China using its massive foreign exchange horde to buy commodity assets around the world is an old story by now.It is now also getting into the act in the Green Energy area as China’s state owned chemical group Blue Star has bought Norwegian environment chemical company Elkem from the Orkla conglomerate.Elkem is one of the largest silicon metal producers in the world and makes a solar grade polysilicon through a specialized low cost process.Orkla which is also the 40% owner of one of the world’s largest silane and polysilicon producers Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) had been looking out for some time to sell Elkem.China has not been a big producer of polysilicon which is the main raw material for producing silicon based semiconductors and silcion based solar panels.The massive demand for polycrstalline modules has resulted in it being the main demand driver for polysilicon.
About 800 jobs in the Solar Industry will be lost directly to China as the USA administration has failed to support its established solar companies.Massachusetts had supported Evergreen with $58 million in subsidies but it was not enough for Evergreen to compete against the ongoing subsidies received by the strong Chinese players who have captured almost 70% of the global market in a few short years.The other US solar companies like Sunpower and First Solar are surviving by manufacturing most of their solar panels in Malaysia and other places.The recent “Buy American” Pentagon Law may not help all that much as module making is a low value add activity already being done by European and Chinese players in the USA.In the complicated supply chain of global manufacturing its difficult to understand who ultimately benefits and loses from such provisions.Note most of the polysilicon going inside the wafers and cells made in Asia are imported from USA and Europe.
France recently halted its solar subsidy program for 3 months for solar installations under 3 kw as it was deluged with a large number of applications.Solar Feed in Tariffs are quite generous for certain type of solar panel installations like BIPV and greenhouses.This combined with rapidly falling solar panel prices primarly due to low cost Chinese manufacturing has made the business extremely lucrative.Note France is not the first country to see a massive flood of solar applications.Spain,Czech,Germany,Australia have faced problems with solar feed in tariff programs mainly because of poor design by slow moving bureaucrats.However most of these countries have never blamed cheap Chinese panel imports for their badly designed programs.Germany which is the undisputed solar market leader did for a while raise the Chinese bogey but it was for a short while.Anyone with a little understanding of the solar industry would know that almost 50% of the value is created in installation which is all done locally.Also most of the polysilicon raw material is made in the West as also most of the equipment used in producing panels in China.