China solar exports hit 58 GW in first three quarters of 2019

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - China’s solar module exports rose to the equivalent of 58 gigawatts of capacity in the first three quarters of the year, compared to 41.6 GW for all of 2018, as a slowdown at home pushed panel sales overseas, an industry association said.

Wang Bohua, vice-chairman of the China Photovoltaic Industry Association, also told a conference on Thursday that the value of the country’s solar component exports hit $17.74 billion over the first three quarters of 2019 and could exceed $20 billion for the whole year, an increase of 25% over 2018.

Europe accounted for 34.9% of the export sales in the first three quarters, and the United States only 0.2%, Wang said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a four-year tariff regime on solar panels in 2018, an opening salvo in a trade war aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers rebound from years of decline due to foreign competition.

Beijing said in May last year it would wind down subsidies to the nation’s solar industry to reflect rapidly declining construction and generation costs. It also sought to tackle a spiralling payment backlog amounting to more than 100 billion yuan ($14.2 billion).

China has been trying to achieve what is known as “grid price parity”, in which renewable energy suppliers are capable of competing subsidy-free with coal-fired power generators.

New capacity additions in China came in at 15.99 GW in the first three quarters of 2019, Wang said. New installations for the year were expected to reach around 25-30 GW this year, down from a record 53 GW in 2017 and 44 GW in 2018.

Most of the capacity added in 2019 has been subsidy-free, and all new projects are expected to operate without government support by 2021.

Executives have warned the subsidy cuts would lead to a slowdown in new capacity for around five years. CPIA’s Wang, however, said installations could recover by next year.

“We aren’t optimistic about new installations this year,” Wang said, noting that the association’s initial minimum expectation at the start of 2019 was 35 GW.

“We expect installations to be more next year, at least 40 GW,” he said.

Total solar module production hit 75 GW over the nine months, up 32% from a year earlier, suggesting domestic manufacturers are confident that overseas orders can offset declining demand at home.

But Wang said the industry would see some consolidation, with some smaller producers still expected to leave the market.

Reporting by Muyu Xu in Shenzhen and David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue