Phoenix, AZ.-- When you talk to PV module manufacturers, you're better off not calling their product a commodity.
Four of the world's major crystalline silicon manufacturers spoke at the Greentech Media Solar Summit today. Each of the firms have their own strategy, their own distinct level of vertical integration, their own technology and their own corporate culture. What the four firms share is a sense of optimism about the solar industry -- and absolute disdain for the term "solar as a commodity."
Andrew Beebe, Vice President, Global Product Strategy, SunTech America
SunTech's VP said, "We take issue with that idea, we don't concede right away that solar panels are a commodity market," claims Beebe. He cites SunTech's high efficiency Pluto technology and the Reliathon product platform as an example of the "end of commoditization." The Reliathon modules include self-aligning frames, fast-installing U bolts, integrated grounding, and wire management.
Beebe said, "We are the largest producer of c-Si cells and modules in the world with a new facility in Goodyear, AZ," also adding, "we have a platform of bankability."
"We will see a de-verticalization soon -- as people get back to the things they do well."
SunTech is vertically integrated from the cell to the installer with 60 percent of their product shipped to Germany.
Mike Miskovsky, General Manager, U.S. Division, Canadian Solar Inc.
Mr. Miskovsky "takes umbrage" at being relegated to commodity status (very sensitive, these solar people). Miskovsky calls Ontario-based Canadian Solar "flexibly vertically integrated" with a gigawatt of production capacity. "There is a lot of high technology" in this "rigorous technical product," which is "hard to do well."
Miskovsky said that it was not so much commoditization as it was "the professionalization of the buying class."
The GM added, "We've had a godsend dropped in our backyard with a generous feed-in tariff (FIT), ranging from 42 cents to 80 cents, that has provided us with a laboratory to develop a turn-key solution."
Troy Dalbey, National Sales Manager, Upsolar America, Inc.
Upsolar America is a U.S. subsidiary of a Chinese supplier that just entered the American PV market -- although they have delivered about 150 megawatts to the EU market. As opposed to the vertically integrated model of Canadian Solar, SunTech and Trina Solar, Upsolar has a "fab-less solar semi model." They're not about building factories and servicing debt -- they claim they are about R&D and quality control. Their product comes with a performance guarantee backed by the Chubb group.
Jim Day, Director of Sales & Marketing North America, Trina Solar
Trina Solar is integrated from ingot to module with 600 megawatts capacity growing to one gigawatt. In Jim Day's words, "commodity is a loaded term -- you have to look at the entire company and who can execute. You need bankability and staying power."
In Andrew Beebe's words, "polysilicon is a commodity but what you do with it doesn't have to be."