Overseas energy projects get green light

Updated: 2012-10-10 00:59

By LAN LAN in Beijing and XIE YU in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Energy programs are among 15 major international economic projects that have been given the go-ahead in a major effort to boost the country's global presence in the solar sector and provide more opportunities for Chinese companies.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, announced the approval of 15 overseas projects on Monday. Energy projects account for about half. Silicon cell producers Hareon Solar Technology won approval to build a 122-megawatt solar-panel power station in Romania.

Winsun New Energy also won approval to establish solar power stations in Italy and Greece.

Solar panel manufacturers have been hit by trade friction recently but power stations may meet less opposition as they provide local employment, experts said.

Han Wenke, director of the Energy Research Institute under the NDRC, said Chinese companies are increasingly looking at setting up power stations.

"Solar has led a new wave in China's overseas investment," Han said.

Solar companies have the expertise to meet robust demand from overseas, he said.

The European Commission launched a probe into China's alleged dumping of solar products in September and the ProSun coalition, a group of 25 European solar panel manufacturers, requested tariffs of up to 120 percent on some Chinese solar products.

More than half of China's solar products are exported to Europe and the suggested tariff would seriously damage the domestic industry.

The EU's probe came on the heels of the US Commerce Department announcing preliminary tariffs of up to 250 percent on imports of Chinese solar cells in May.

The silicon wafer business has been affected by the gloomy global market and trade barriers in the US and Europe, said Xue Jin, assistant general manager of Winsun New Energy.

"Our company used to focus on silicon wafer manufacturing, but since last year we looked more at solar power stations," Xue said.

Winsun will start building a 115.9 megawatt solar power station this year in Italy, and increase investment into its branch in Luxembourg, after the NDRC approval.

Earlier this year, the NDRC gave approval to Long Energy, a solar company in Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province, to invest in a solar power station in the US.

China Everbright International announced it was involved in a solar-panel energy project last year in Germany with an investment of about 7.6 million euros ($9.8 million). The station is connected to the power grid and has started generating power.

Zhang Jianping, a researcher from the Institute for International Economic Research under the NDRC, said investing in overseas solar power stations has gradually become a new business model.

Exports of solar products have been hit by anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations, but power stations help create local jobs, Zhang said.

The eurozone crisis provides an excellent opportunity.

However, not all solar companies are optimistic about global operations.

Tony Zhu, sales director of Shandong-based Himin Clean Energy said the company has no short-term plans for projects in Europe and the US.

"It usually takes eight to 10 years to get back investment and the company may have a liquidity crunch. It costs about 15 yuan ($2.4) per watt to build such a station," Zhu said.

The NDRC also approved Guangdong Guangken Rubber Group investing in a 40,000-hectare site in Malaysia and Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber investing in a manufacturing project in Thailand.

Tires are a focus of trade friction. The US imposed 35 percent additional duties on Chinese tire imports in 2009.

"China imports rubber from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia and it's a better option to also produce there to avoid trade friction," said Zhang.

Contact the writers at lanlan@chinadaily.com.cn and xieyu@chinadaily.com.cn