THE FRIDAY NOTE: Chinese solar industry remains under fire and the rest of the week's top picks
Sep 28, 2012 - European solar firms this week called for a probe into Chinese government support for the solar industry, the European Union's (EU) wind energy capacity topped 100 GW and the development of a 7.2-GW offshore wind farm in the UK kicked off.
The discontent against solar imports from China continued as solar industry association EU ProSun on Tuesday filed an official complaint with the European Commission (EC), seeking an investigation into certain practices of the Chinese government that it says represent illegal government support. The organisation accused Beijing of helping solar companies remain in business with massive subsidies, giving as an example low interest rates offered to solar manufacturers by Chinese banks.
The complaint follows the recent launch by the EC of an anti-dumping probe against Chinese solar product manufacturers.
Chinese companies rejected the accusations. Yingli Green Energy Holding (NYSE:YGE) said that the average interest rates for all its loans was between 6.3% and 7.1%. Ben Hill, president of Trina Solar Ltd's (NYSE:TSL) European arm, said that state support for the solar industry was not exclusive to China.
Sharp cuts back on solar business, SoloPower makes a start
The EU-China trade tensions come as the global solar sector continues to struggle with overcapacity, intense competition and incentive reductions in key markets. Indicative of the industry woes, Japanese electronics group Sharp Corp (TYO:6753) plans to abandon its solar power operations in the US and Europe in a bid to improve performance, Kyodo News reported this week. The company is looking for a buyer for its solar factories in Nara, Osaka and Toyama prefectures, the news agency said, seeking to centre its solar manufacturing activity in in Sakai, Osaka.
Against the gloomy backdrop in the sector, SoloPower Inc, a California-based thin-film solar firm backed by a US government loan guarantee, made a start on Thursday. It cut the ribbon of a high-volume manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon that is planned to ultimately reach a capacity of 400 MW.
EU surpasses 100 GW of wind capacity, UK moves along
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) said wind energy capacity in the EU has topped 100 GW with half of that installed in the last six years alone. The operating wind turbines in the region produce as much power a year as 39 nuclear or 62 coal power plants and can cover the needs of 57 million homes, EWEA calculates.
UK wind and marine energy industries trade body RenewableUK also reported milestones. Britain has reached 5 GW of installed onshore wind capacity and 2.67 GW of offshore wind capacity in September, it said. Contributing to the latter was the launch of the 317-MW Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm this week. Located off the coast of Norfolk the project is owned by Norwegian utility Statkraft AS and Norwegian oil major Statoil ASA (OSL:STL).
Another huge offshore wind project in UK waters is in the making -- Spanish Iberdrola (MCE:IBЕ) and Swedish utility Vattenfall AB have started the development phase of their up-to-7.2-GW East Anglia offshore wind farm. The two awarded a contract to Scottish firm Woods Group for the installation of two weather monitoring stations, to be in place next summer.
UK government statistics, meanwhile, showed that renewable power generation in the UK reached a share of 9.6% in total electricity output in the second quarter of 2012, compared with 9% a year back.