High-Level Innovation Drives Mission to Increase Market ShareBy Cas Biekmann | Wed, 01/05/2022 - 12:33
Q: What value does Canadian Solar add to solar projects?
A: Canadian Solar has two business units. One is an energy group, which develops projects around the world and then sells them to investors, including those in Mexico. The energy group does not have the obligation to buy solar panels from us. My business group focuses on module systems and services. We provide our technology, quality and great track record to various developers in other regions. We offer a great deal of value. The quality of our products is exceptional, for example. All our products are backed up by the latest innovations. We also have a local team in Mexico, which understands the market profoundly and provides local players for a much closer connection. We have been in Mexico since 2014, so we have experience working in segments such as utility scale and distributed generation (DG). One of our differentiators is that we have a varied customer base, plus a good network of distributors, engineers and procurement and construction (EPC) companies.
Q: How does the company add technological value to its solar panels?
A: We were among the first to increase the output of silicon solar cell technologies. Only few companies are switching to the 655-665W modules. We now base our monofacial and bifacial modules on 210mm cells, a new trend in cell sizing. Another innovation comes from silicon-based heterojunction solar cells (Si-HJT), which can help modules reach record levels of efficiency. This is expected to arrive in the market in late 2022. Canadian Solar analyzes new technologies and their economic potential. HJT cells will certainly add value soon.
Q: How are policy developments changing the environment for DG and Canadian Solar’s approach?
A: Commercial and industrial (C&I) customers in the DG environment are an important part of our client base, as well as residential users. We reach these users through local distributors. C&I clients are approached through EPCs, creating a partnership between the EPC, suppliers and manufacturers such as ourselves. We believe that DG will continue to grow despite uncertainties in the market. As of June 2021, Mexico had around 1.7GW of DG installed. By 2024, CRE expects growth to continue and double in size. The market is growing 30 to 40 percent a year. Currently, DG’s threshold to remain unregulated stands at 0.5MW. An initiative seeks to boost it to 1MW. This discussion has been taking place in Congress for about a year. If we can overcome this hurdle, DG would gain more traction.
Q: How would you assess the possibility of manufacturing in Mexico?
A: Canadian Solar has facilities in China, Vietnam, Thailand and Canada. We used to have a minor facility in Brazil, aimed at the local market. All our products here come from China. At one point, we held discussions to move some manufacturing to Mexico. After doing the analysis, the company decided against it, at least in the near term.
In regard to logistics costs, the pandemic has taught us that we need to decentralize operations across the world. Many industries depend on China and we have seen issues arise in terms of scarcity and the cost of logistics. This is a good time to begin decentralizing. Mexico has a huge market and has trade agreements with the US and Canada. There are many beneficial opportunities, although its differences with China could be a challenge at first.
Q: How did the company become a major player in and around battery storage?
A: Canadian Solar was born as a solar panel manufacturer but three years ago, the company entered the inverter market. Recently, we have been providing these solutions to the Mexican and Central American markets. In regard to storage, we still do not have pure storage solutions in the local market. This will likely change in 4Q22, when we introduce behind-the-meter solutions to Mexico. Canadian Solar has already implemented storage in Japan, Australia and California, so the company is moving forward in the storage business. In Latin America, this development will happen later.
Q: How has the company dealt with developing Horus, Tastiota and El Mayo in a challenging environment?
A: Just like any business, Canadian Solar’s development arm puts out a request for proposal (RFP) and continues to process the offers. Horus is already interconnected to the grid and Tastiota has been constructed but not yet interconnected. As for El Mayo, we delivered the last solar panels to the site this past October. During the pandemic, the company experienced a stressful time, especially with rising logistics costs and volatility in module pricing. This led to a variety of negotiations regarding amendments in the contracts, which were signed under different circumstances. We managed to solve issues like delays so that Canadian Solar’s development company could remain on schedule for the commissioning of the power plants.
Q: What are Canadian Solar’s objectives for the year to come?
A: This year, DG’s total Mexican market share has been around 400MW. Canadian Solar has captured 100MW, so we stand at 25 percent. Our goal for 2022 is to increase this market share to between 30 and 35 percent. We are growing our distribution network and enhancing our relationship with EPCs. Another goal is to integrate our local team even further. We are putting everything on the table to make this happen and make next year a success. We also need to educate our customers on the opportunities and the pitfalls found in current market conditions. The market will start to consolidate, leaving room for only a few top brands. We aim to be among them. Digitalization and e-commerce will play into this too, as well as new technologies based on economically viable but different components.
Canadian Solar is a publicly traded solar giant that manufactures PV solar panels and manages utility-scale solar projects around the world through two separate business units.