* Italy was the fastest-growing solar market in 2011
* Sharp fall bad news for major solar module makers
* Solar companies looking beyond Italy
By Svetlana Kovalyova
VERONA, Italy, May 8 Growth of solar power
capacity in Italy, the world's second-biggest market, is
expected to slow to 1,500-2,500 megawatts in 2012 after a 9,300
MW leap in 2011, due to a planned cut in incentives, a senior
industry official said.
"It could be between 1,500 and 2,500 megawatts," Gerardo
Montanino, director of operating division at GSE, Italy's green
energy incentives management agency, said on the sidelines of a
photovoltaic conference in northern Italy on Tuesday.
"It is very difficult to make more precise forecasts when
the rules for the sector are changing," Montanino said.
The Italian government has announced a plan to scale back
production incentives to the photovoltaic and other renewable
energy this year to ease the burden on consumers, who pay for
the industry support with their power bills.
The inflow of requests for incentives, managed by GSE, has
slowed considerably so far this year, and various requests have
been filed and then later cancelled in a sign of uncertainty in
the sector, Montanino said.
The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA)
expects Italy to add 3,000 to 6,000 MW this year of new
photovoltaic capacity, which turns sunlight into power.
Last year's jump in new installations, spurred by a special
decree, made Italy the fastest-growing photovoltaic market for
the year. Italy's total installed PV capacity stood at about
12,700 MW at the end of 2011.
A sharp fall in Italy's solar growth is bad news for major
solar equipment makers such as Chinese group Suntech Power
Holdings, Trina Solar, Yingli Green Energy
Holding and U.S. firms First Solar and SunPower
Andrew Beebe, Suntech Power's chief commercial officer, said
it was too early to talk about the impact of planned incentive
cuts in Italy on the company's business before the final version
is published but said Suntech remained committed to Italy and
Germany, which has also cut solar industry support.
"I think both countries will stay firmly committed to solar
and we will stay committed to the countries," Beebe told Reuters
at the same conference.
LOOKING BEYOND ITALY
Facing a slow down in solar installation demand in Italy,
some other companies have started looking to new markets,
especially in Asia, which is expected by EPIA to overtake Europe
as the growth leader in the next five years.
"We, at REC, have prepared ourselves for this shift
from the European markets to Asia," John Andersen, executive
vice president and chief operating officer at Norway's Renewable
Energy Corp. (REC), told Reuters.
"That means, in our plans we focus more and more on the
United States and Asia," Andersen told Reuters. Italy has been
be a major market for solar equipment maker REC.
A growing number of Italian renewable energy companies,
ranging from the large Enel Green Power to the much
smaller TerniEnergia, are already developing solar
power projects abroad, attracted by more stable regulatory
regimes than at home.
A number of Italian solar companies presented their overseas
projects at the conference, in countries ranging from Greece to
Chile and from Morocco to South Africa.
Italian makers of solar power equipment, like their western
peers, have been hit hard in the past couple of years by the
growing competition from lower cost Asian rivals and may turn to
the European Commission for help, the head of Italian PV
industry association Comitato IFI said.
"We are considering whether to ask the European Commission
to launch an anti-dumping action," Comitato IFI Chairman
Alessandro Cremonesi told Reuters.
"But it is a very long process ... it would take at least
two years, and the industry cannot wait 24 months," Cremonesi
The United States imposed import duties on solar panel
imports from China in March and anti-dumping duties are expected
after initial tariffs came lower than expected.
U.S. moves could inspire European manufacturers but duties
to fend off competition from cheaper Chinese solar panels risk
feeding the European sector's addiction to artificial subsidies,
industry experts say.