Álvaro García-Maltrás
President of Latin America and the Caribbean
Trina Solar
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View from the Top

A New Standard for Solar Panels

By Cas Biekmann | Fri, 05/22/2020 - 16:34

Q: How important is Mexico within Trina Solar’s global portfolio?

A: Mexico is the principal solar market in Latin America and ranked in the Top 10 of emerging global markets until last year, when Brazil caught up. Its success has largely been credited to the energy auctions initiated by the previous government, which generated growth in the market and attracted many international developers. The market has not yet adapted to new schemes that allow for large-scale construction of additional projects. Mexico is now in a transitioning stage and solar development has stalled. Brazil is gaining quite a bit of interest as well. That country is strongly promoting utility-scale projects and distributed generation, which allows for stronger development. Mexico had always been more focused on utility. Distributed generation is growing as well. For Trina, Mexico continues to be a key market that has yet to tap its full potential.

 

Q: What can the public sector do to boost distributed generation?

A: In Mexico, most distributed generation projects are at a regulated 0.5MW cap and the country’s large projects could benefit from financial incentives on imports of solar panels. Some costs can be avoided if the project is large enough and under certain conditions, but costs are much harder to avoid for smaller projects. If these two hurdles are overcome by the government, distributed generation would become attractive in Mexico. From there, a more localized solar industry could be created. Mexico’s large projects are often built by foreign companies. Hopefully, Mexico’s own industry can benefit from greater distributed generation, as this is where more local companies are involved.

 

Q: What is the main added value that Trina Solar offers to Mexico’s solar market?

A: The company’s strong suit is technology. Trina is 23 years old and has always been a leader in technological developments regarding module efficiency. We have held 20 solar cell & module efficiency world records. For over 10 years, the company has owned a laboratory dedicated to developing the best products for the solar market. The company products are also reliable and consistent in terms of function. We have demonstrated that our solar modules guarantee a life cycle up to 30 years. If you need to choose a technological partner, the durability of our products is guaranteed. We also have a good reputation among banks. Financing institutions feel comfortable if a project uses our products. We offer warranties and abide by all contracts. We also have quite a sizeable team in Mexico, which allows us to provide localized assistance to all of our Mexican clients.

 

Q: What have been the main success stories for the company in Mexico over the past two years?

A: In 2019, we were fortunate enough to participate in a variety of construction projects. We finished our 100 MW Tepezalá Project in Aguascalientes and constructed our 104 MW Calera project in Zacatecas. We were also involved in other big solar projects, such as 93 MW Conejos project in Juárez, or 180 MW Solem I project. We also reinforced our relationship with some major solar energy distributors in Mexico, specifically with Baywa. These alliances allow us to introduce our brand across the country.

 

Q: How will Trina’s R&D shape company’s future in Mexico?

A: Trina invests close to 5 percent of its annual net profits in R&D. One key product to emerge from our R&D is Vertex. The costs of panels have decreased tremendously in the last 20 years. Today, PV modules cost less than 10 percent of what they cost 10 years ago, and they are more efficient.

Trina not only focuses on lowering the costs of modules, but also the costs of installation as well. If a client has questions regarding costs, Vertex provides the answer with its enhanced unit efficiency. This has allowed for the installation of fewer modules to generate the same amount of energy, which directly translates into savings.

Vertex is based on cutting the cell into three pieces as opposed to, for instance, half-cell technology, which is still in heavy use. Basically, we created a bigger cell that we cut into three pieces, using technology that guarantees a clean cut. We also use a new form that allows a high-density ordering of the cells within the module. The space between the cells within the module are reduced to half a millimeter, so the entire surface of the module can be used to capture light. An additional technology the company designed to improve performance is the Multi Bus Bar. This creates better energy efficiency by using narrower bus bars, which allow greater sunlight reflection. The Vertex module can reach 500W and costs around 6 to 8 percent less to install compared to the more common solar panels that are used today. These are significant savings, above all for a product that offers more efficiency. The development process was not simple but it has provided us with a big step forward. We expect Vertex to become our main product from 2021 onward.

 

Q: How has Trina Solar’s supply chain been impacted by COVID-19?

A: The impact has been minimal. The virus hit China in mid-January, coinciding with the Chinese New Year. Trina continued its operations during this period due to client demand, but many Chinese companies chose to take the time off. Today, this impact has been nullified. I fear that COVID-19’s impact on the economy in general will be much stronger than it has been for us.

To answer the question whether opportunity has arisen because of the virus, the extent to which the economy will be impacted remains unclear. Opportunity for the solar sector can be created in one of the most crucial areas: certainty. If you invest in solar energy, you are assured that your investment is secure for a period of 30 years. We have seen drops in prices for oil and other commodities. Solar energy, however, has never experienced such drops. It is a low-risk investment. Themes such as maintenance are not an issue at all. You can predict how much a project will produce over the next 30 years. This allows for long-term decision-making because you know what the costs will be as well, which is attractive for clients.

 

Q: What are the main targets for the company this year and how have those changed in the wake of the pandemic?

A: Our main objective was to secure our position and boost our growth in the distributed generation market. It is the segment where we can provide a great deal of support for local Mexican companies. We have experience and a local team on call to provide help where needed. On the utility level, we can gloss over the negative exchange rate because it contributes to lower installation costs. Combined with our new Vertex product, which will be available in July, we think we can absorb any negative impact the sector is experiencing, which competitors might not be able to do as easily. Solaris not a sector with large margins for profit. Our projects continue to be developed in Mexico, and we are preparing new projects that will very likely be built in 2021.

 

Trina Solar is a China-based leader in PV modules, solutions and services with a global footprint, founded in 1997. It delivers smart, industry-leading solutions for the utility, industrial, residential and commercial sectors.

Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst