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Prospect of solar energy photovoltaic technology in China
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2006-05-16 09:01

By He Zhenhong


The solar energy photovoltaic generation systems installed on the 12 main passages of the Bird Nest, the main venue of the 2008 Olympic Games, by Dr. Shi Zhengrong have brought new opportunities for the development of the whole industry. Although the solar energy system with a total installation capacity of 130kw means nothing in comparison with the Bird Nest's colossal volume of electricity consumption, insiders would rather interpret such a move as follows: China's "sunlight industry" with the solar energy photovoltaic generation as the representative will meet an age of flourishing.


The industrial miracle that Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. has set up is very enticing.


Five years ago, Dr. Shi returned from Australia to carve out his own cause with over 10 technical patents on the solar energy photovoltaic generation technology and US$250,000; now, his Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. has turned into one of the world's six largest solar battery production bases with the total assets of RMB1.8 billion yuan and its profits of RMB400 million. What is more surprising is that just within half a year, Shi not only had his Suntech listed in the New York Stock Exchange but also succeeded in having "solar batteries" introduced into the Bird Nest.


The industrial prospect that Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. has made clear to all is even more enticing.


China is abundant of sunlight resources. The volume of solar radiation taken up by the land surface is equivalent to 4.9 trillion tons of standard coal, and two thirds of China's land areas have over 2,200 hours of sunlight. If all those solar energy could be used to generate electricity, the total generated energy would be equal to that generated by tens of thousands of Three Gorges Hydroelectric Power Stations.


China is a large producer of sand quartz resources with an output of metallurgical silicon accounting for one third of the world total. Sand quartz is the raw material for the production of poly crystal silicon, which is the utmost key raw material for solar energy photovoltaic batteries.


Besides resources, China's "sunlight industry" boats a vast market prospect as well. For the moment, there are approximately 26 million people, to whom electricity power is not available. To solve such a problem mainly relies on the development of renewable energy resources, especially solar energy photovoltaic generation systems


Such an enticing cake has attracted the attention of investors.


Silicon sand – crystal silicon – silicon ingots (silicon bars) – silicon wafers – battery wafers – battery modules, most Chinese enterprises, mainly producing battery wafers and battery modules, are now at the utmost bottom end of the industrial chain of solar energy photovoltaic generation; thus, the entering doorsill is rather low. As a result, even fashion enterprises are also casting their eyes on solar energy photovoltaic generation. There floods an irrational impulse of investments inside the industry. "One can open a solar energy photovoltaic factory with two engineers plus RMB50 million yuan." – such a joke made by inside experts reveals helpless color.


Nobody has realized that the glory of Shi Zhengrong does not belong to the industry as a whole. The road for the "sunlight industry" is still full of thistles and thorns as well as frustrations.


Technologies form a rigid restriction. Poly crystal silicon controls the lifeline of the solar energy photovoltaic industry; however, the core production technologies are in the monopoly of several transnational companies. The world's top 10 multinationals have seized 85 percent of the market shares in the world, nearly having controlled the manufacture and sales of highly pure poly crystal silicon; moreover, they refuse to set up joint ventures or conduct cooperation.


Due to the lack of supports with key technologies, China has to export quartz sand at the price of US$1 per kilogram and then purchase highly pure crystal silicon made out of silicon sand at the price of tens of US dollars per kilograms although it has a great deal of silicon sand resources! "90 percent of silicon sand has been exported, while 90 percent of poly crystal silicon has to be imported." Such is a situation that has to be faced by China's solar energy photovoltaic industry.


Costs form another secret anguish for China's solar energy photovoltaic industry. Data show that affected by the rise of the solar energy photovoltaic industry, the price of poly crystal silicon in the international market has risen from US$23 per kilogram at the beginning of 2003 to US$80 per kilogram at the end of 2005. "Without money, there is no way to get engaged in the solar energy photovoltaic generation." Such a popular saying in the solar energy photovoltaic industry has described such an embarrassment from another angle.


Directly correlated to costs is scale. As shown by data, the internationally economic scale for the solar energy photovoltaic industry is over 1,000 megawatts at present; nevertheless, the scale of Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. in Wuxi, which is the largest solar energy photovoltaic enterprise in China, is just less than 2 million megawatts.


What is more austere is that in recent years, 95 percent of the driving force for the growth of China's solar energy photovoltaic industry comes from abroad, especially being driven by the demands in Europe, which is short of production capability. Nowadays, various countries in Europe are making great efforts to develop their own solar energy photovoltaic industry; and it is forecast that around the year of 2007, the balance between production capability and demands will be realized basically. If China does not make great efforts to drive domestic demands, by then, China's solar energy photovoltaic industry will get into a crisis of surplus.


At this stage, what mostly deserves people's attention is how to introduce more and better "sunlight" for the future of the solar energy photovoltaic industry.


Firstly, it relies on technologies. It is a common understanding in the industry that "one who controls silicon is the king". For the time being, the world's solar energy photovoltaic industrial chain is presenting a trend of getting through between the upstream and downstream enterprises. Quite a number of manufacturers of silicon ingots and silicon wafers have begun to set foot in the manufacture of batteries. Such a trend has undoubtedly posed more severe challenges to China's solar energy photovoltaic enterprises. Under such a situation, independent innovations has become the only choice for China's solar energy photovoltaic enterprises to seek for survival and development if they want to grasp the initiative in their development.


Secondly, it relies on scale. The saying that "those who have accumulated assets will get gold" tells of the scale effect. With an eye on the status of small scale and lying in the low end of the industrial chain, the government should offer greater supports for the development of the solar energy photovoltaic industry. Data show that in various counties in Europe, the solar energy photovoltaic industry had been given policy supports in the initiative phase of its development. For instance, Germany once prepared to construct large-scale solar energy power generation plants by raising funds and encouraged individuals to purchase solar energy photovoltaic generation systems. Last year, there had increased a new solar energy power generation capability of 600 megawatts in Germany; as calculated, each household just paid EUD1 more each month. Considering the situation in China, industrial insiders propose that the government can give supports to selected key solar energy photovoltaic enterprises, helping them expand their scales; further more, the government can extend the industrial chain upward so as to cultivate flagships in the industry. 
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