PV manufacturers go head to head

Solar potential mapping projects are underway around the world, and Vietnam could become an attractive destination for solar photovoltaics manufacturers to meet the increasing demand both overseas and domestically. The race between major and minor players is heating up. 

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Solar photovoltaic (PV) power demand has experienced exponential growth worldwide over the last decade. According to the European Commission’s PV Status Report 2017, with its compound annual growth rate of over 40 per cent over the last decade, photovoltaics has become one of the fastest-growing industries at present. Solar photovoltaic systems today are recognised as a promising renewable energy technology.

The overall market for PV solar is expected to continue to grow globally, while the cost of installing and making solar panels and photovoltaic panels continues to drop. This growth has led First Solar, one of the US’ largest solar equipment manufacturers, to return to Vietnam five years after it announced to leave Vietnam, and failed to find a suitable investor to replace it.

“We have seen an increase in the demand for the product globally, so we have reactivated our investment in Vietnam. The reasons why we came back to Vietnam are the favourable business conditions, the skilled workforce, the valuable supply chains, the stable political system, competitive costs, and the growing needs of the high-tech industry in the region,” said Mike Koralewski, First Solar’s senior vice president for Global Module Manufacturing.

“First Solar has moved forward its manufacturing plans for the initial factory, and recently committed to a second factory here in the Southeast Industrial Park. We have strong customer demand for our new Series 6 product and our investment in Vietnam is a critical component of our future success,” he added.

With preliminary module production expected to start in the fourth quarter of 2018, the two factories will produce 2.4 gigawatts (GW) worth of First Solar’s Series 6 modules annually when fully operational. In Vietnam, in addition to producing modules, the company is actively exploring module supply agreements to support local projects, and looks forward to supporting the growth of the solar industry in Vietnam.

This is a part of First Solar’s aggressive plans to expand its manufacturing capacity. The company is expected to increase its total production capacity from roughly 2GW in 2017 to about 7.6GW by 2020.

China is the world’s largest producer of PV equipment, and some well-known Chinese manufacturers, including Trina Solar, JA Solar, and Bowerway Group, have spent several years dodging trade barriers by shifting products to Vietnam. These companies are now scrambling to find new customers, both domestic and foreign, in a sharp reversal of fortunes for an industry flooded with orders only a few years ago.

Trina Solar last week announced that it will deliver Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) modules to a new 258-megawatt (MW) project located in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan. The project, with the investment capital of around $220 million by Vietnam’s Trung Nam Group, is set to become the country’s largest solar power project when it is completed next June. Trina Solar, which has a 1GW solar cell manufacturing facility in Vietnam, said, “With a huge demand for PV products, the facility is the first combined wind and solar power generation plant in Vietnam and is expected to play a key role in the country’s transformation to renewable energy.”

Meanwhile, China’s JA Solar Group is building a $280 million solar cell manufacturing plant in the northern province of Bac Giang, which already has about five solar panel projects. “While we anticipate more market headwinds in the short term, we are confident that our favourable geographic exposure, prudent cost control, and flexible business model will enable us to succeed,” noted JA’s solar report.

PV power in Vietnam is currently shining bright, and big players from the US and Chinese investors already basing their facilities here will create cost competition as well as competition for services.

Bac Giang is currently home to eight solar panel projects backed by Chinese and Taiwanese investors, which will form the largest solar energy equipment manufacturing chain in the country, with a total capacity of 5,200MW.

SolarBK is regarded as the leading Vietnamese solar panel manufacturer. By the end of 2017, IREX, a member of SolarBK, completed the first stage of a solar panel and solar cell factory with a capacity of 500MW in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. With strategic investments in research and manufacturing, SolarBK’s products such as solar PV modules (solar panels) and flat-plate collectors for solar water heating systems all meet international standards such as IEC, UL, SRCC, and Solar Keymark. This is the key for SolarBK to win more large orders from the US, Europe, and the Asian market.

Nguyen Duong Tuan, CEO of SolarBK, previously told VIR, “We are proud to be the first Vietnamese company to produce solar cells with international standards at a competitive price. Besides our ‘Poly’ and ‘Mono’ solar panel lines that are exported to Europe and the US, IREX also has photovoltaic cell production lines at an automation rate of 100 per cent.”

Founded in 2012, IREX’s factory has modern production lines able to make 300MW worth of PV cells a year. The company showed its ambition at its 2018 annual shareholders’ general meeting, setting a goal of reaching Tier 1 on the Bloomberg New Energy Finance ranking system by 2020. A Tier 1 solar panel is a panel expected to produce power for the entirety of its roughly 25-year lifespan.

“Tier 1 is IREX’s next target to participate fully at a global level. However, this is not IREX’s final purpose, but merely our proof that skills and Vietnamese technology are equivalent to international quality. Tier 1, in brief, is only a standard placed by one organisation, which can be appropriate for now, but nothing can assure its impact in the future given that technology is constantly changing,” said Nguyen Thuy Ngan, PR manger of SolarBK.

Ngan added that this is a promising strategy for Vietnamese renewable energy brands in general and IREX in particular. “Based on Vietnam’s solar energy starting point in terms of conditions, policies, and environment, achieving goals means huge efforts not only for our company but also for local financial counterparts.”


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