MUNICH–After missing Intersolar Europe for the first time in five years in 2013, I’ve been looking forward to visiting the Messe München for many months. Over the course of the first two days, the show has not disappointed. While exhibitor numbers are down over recent years, the show is still viewed as the premier European event on the solar calendar, bringing together the widest, most comprehensive collection of companies from across the PV value chain. Three years ago the event attracted a staggering 2200 exhibiting companies, and though early estimates put this year’s number closer to 1100, the atmosphere across the show floor was by far the most positive seen at Intersolar EU in many years.
One of the most interesting discussions I’ve had took place with Suntech’s director of global marketing, Wu Hui. After recently reporting on Shunfeng PV’s acquisition of Suntech and the mammoth operating costs facing the company over the next three years, I saw the meeting as a great opportunity to dig deeper into the company’s immediate ambitions and market strategy.
The most significant revelation of our conversation related to the U.S. market. Having digested Monday’s announcement by the Department of Commerce that Suntech modules imported into the U.S. will face a preliminary tariff of 35.21%, I fully expected Wu to tell me that as a consequence of the decision, Suntech would be stepping back from the biggest North American market, at least in the short-term.
Instead, he offered the surprisingly reassuring statement “the U.S. is a very important market for Suntech, regardless of this week’s news.” Wu explained that while Suntech has received the harshest import tariffs, all Chinese panel manufacturers will suffer as a result of the latest ruling, and that his company remains fully committed to growing its U.S. business.
How Suntech will service its U.S. and indeed its entire foreign utility-scale business is another challenge altogether. Wu told me that the company’s 2.5GW production lines are already running at full capacity to provide product for a 10GW Chinese pipeline across the next three years. This means Suntech’s expanding project opportunities in Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and eventually the U.S. will have to be sourced from acquiring new capacity, with Mexico pinpointed as a possible target this year. (In a related story, Bloomberg reports that the company CEO said in an interview at Intersolar that “Suntech plans to add capacity of 500MW to 1GW and is looking at ‘different options’ in Southeast Asia, North America and South America.”)
Equally interesting news came from Schneider Electric, which was showcasing its plug-and-play conversion system, PV Box. Measuring a sizable 6.8 x 2.5 x 3.5 meters, the system brings together the major power conversion processes into one product, including the inverter, DC and AC switches, cabling, and surge protection solutions. The platform is already proving popular with EPCs and developers that need much of the balance-of-system elements packaged together when constructing commercial and utility-scale projects with short deadlines. Recent orders have come from emerging markets, such as Russia and Nicaragua. Cyrille Godino, the company’s global marketing and product manager, noted that Schneider does not have a number-one solar market per se, but is instead taking consistent orders from across five continents so far in 2014.
Another standout meeting from the week came at the Advanced Energy booth. A well-established inverter brand in the U.S., AE is in the process of expanding its company awareness and solar solution in Europe. On-the-ground marketing efforts are in full swing to increase the company’s already strong European project pipelines, which are estimated to comfortably reach 1GW by the end of 2014, with the booming U.K. market a priority in the short-term. While no exact figure was provided, the company said that in terms of volume shipped, Advanced Energy can lay claim to being the largest inverter company in the U.S., topping the likes of SMA, ABB and Kaco.
Watch for post-show reports from Intersolar Europe next week on SolarCurator.
PHOTOS BY NICK RICHARDSON
Tags: BOS / balance of systems, commercial/industrial-scale solar, crystalline silicon, distributed generation, EPC / engineering, inverters, market research, performance and reliability, policy, procurement & construction, project development, PV / photovoltaics, renewable energy, solar energy, solar modules, solar power, solar production facilities, utility-scale solar