China’s solar firms set to lower growth targets

Firms are being forced to balance dwindling profits against the government’s relentless push for ever more clean energy. — Bloomberg

Beijing: China’s solar industry is likely to set lower expansion targets in 2024, as financial stresses and grid constraints make it challenging to match last year’s explosive growth.

The China Photovoltaic Industry Association gathered in Beijing for its annual conference yesterday, with firms being forced to balance dwindling profits against the government’s relentless push for ever more clean energy. Although panel prices have dropped steeply, lowering the cost to developers, manufacturers are getting squeezed by overcapacity. Consolidation, including bankruptcies, are on the cards.

China installed 217 gigawatts of capacity last year, more than all the solar panels in the United States, after initial predictions that the figure could be as low as 95 gigawatts.

That would still have been a record, but twice during the year the association was forced to raise its forecasts to keep pace with the flood of new additions, which have set China well on the way to its goal of tripling renewable power by the end of the decade.

China is also struggling to ensure that electricity grids and markets are capable of absorbing all of the extra clean power.

BloombergNEF forecasts solar additions to rise just 7% this year.

The centrepieces of the expansion mandated by President Xi Jinping are the massive renewables hubs being constructed in the desert interior. A rush to meet deadlines for the first batch drove much of the gangbusters growth in solar last year.

The industry is now being forced to reckon with the consequences. Excess capacity and intense competition have driven panel prices to record lows. The average price of polysilicon, a key raw material, fell 74% last year, according to BloombergNEF.

The price war is hitting earnings, forcing some companies to cut production to support margins. But that could ultimately work against their interests as firms can only survive by keeping up sales, despite cratering profits, in order to maintain their customer bases for when prices recover, BloombergNEF said.

Fierce domestic rivalry has forced many companies to seek relief in markets outside China, where prices are higher. Progress on overseas expansion and new opportunities abroad are slated for discussion at the association’s meeting.

However, manufacturers have faced growing scrutiny in recent years, especially from the United States, due to anti-dumping concerns and allegations of human rights violations in their supply chains, which Beijing has repeatedly denied.

Trade barriers have led firms to set up shop overseas, including in the United States. Some of the biggest panel makers such as Longi Green Energy Technology Co and Trina Solar Co have announced plans for American factories, where generous government subsidies are available as part of the Biden administration’s push to develop renewable power.

Longi’s Ohio plant started production in January.

Leading polysilicon producer GCL Technology Holdings Ltd, meanwhile, has said it will open its first overseas factory in Saudi Arabia. — Bloomberg

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