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

Prospects Move to DG, Says PV Panel Giant

By Cas Biekmann | Thu, 02/18/2021 - 11:44

Q: What were Trina Solar’s biggest achievements in 2020 and what are its projections for 2021?

A: Trina Solar’s biggest achievement in 2020 was the company´s listing on the Chinese stock exchange. Shipments of modules in 2020 exceeded 15 GW. Since Trina’s listing, the company has reinforced its intention to return as the global leader in photovoltaic panels. Our listing has also facilitated access to new financing, which means we could increase our manufacturing capacity and set ambitious plans for the future. Sales increased in 2020 compared to 2019 and we are expecting to see a further rise in 2021.

Furthermore, Trina made a number of technological decisions in 2020. It will focus its new manufacturing investment on the newest and latest 210mm cell size that the market is deploying in solar modules, which is featured in our Vertex platform. Trina believes it is the correct size for the coming years because we can achieve higher power and efficiency at similar or even competitive costs. It is a long-term invest and Trina is the first big manufacturer to make a bet on this technology. The Vertex modules come in different sizes and power. Vertex S is specifically designed for distribution in the residential segment, with a power range of 400W. It has the right weight and size to maximize yield in the limited space available to customers in the segment. We have a product range from 500W peak up to 600W peak. In 2H21, we will manufacture and offer our new 660W Vertex modules.

Trina Solar also completed the acquisition of a European tracker manufacturer in 2020. The company now offers its own tracker via its tracker division. The tracker is designed to be compatible with our modules, allowing us to offer an optimized solution to our utility-scale customers.

 

Q: How is the company adapting its strategy to uncertainties in the Mexican market?

A: There are highlights and lowlights in the Mexican market. We think that there has been a great deal of growth as well as opportunities for development in the distributed generation (DG) segment. In the past, the main winners of solar tenders were non-Mexican companies. Today, Mexican players lead the DG segment. This makes the sector sustainable in the mid to long term. Trina is investing locally and willing to cooperate with these players. Brazil serves as a good example for DG in Latin America and Mexico is now taking steps in the right direction. This growth in Mexico is motivating us to strengthen our relationship with local distributers and to adapt our solutions, work and training within this segment.

In the utility-scale segment, we certainly see a stagnation of projects. This is unfortunate because we honestly believe that Mexico is losing an opportunity. The majority of countries are finding solar power can provide clean, rapidly deployed, safe and very competitive energy. In Mexico, renewable energy in general is being held responsible for blackouts and grid instability. We think that this is not fair; the weak transmission and distribution system is a more probable cause. Perhaps more resources and technologies should be added to better manage energy supply into the grid. We understand that solar energy should not be the base of the energy mix, at least for the time being. It is very much compatible with the residential, C&I sectors, but on the utility-scale it represents a peak source of generation. We would never suggest that Mexico’s base load should consist of solar. However, we do not agree with banning this technology. It has a limited impact on the grid that can be forecasted accurately through analytical tools. The fact that solar is considered the black sheep of the energy family and permits are being held back is not good news at all. It is particularly unfortunate for the Mexican consumer, who is forced to continue to rely on fossil fuels for electricity generation and will not be able to enjoy a cleaner environment.

 

Q: How is the company’s utility-scale project progressing?

A: The project, located in Zacatecas, has been developing and is nearly finished. We are also working on other projects of varying sizes. There are not many recent projects available and considering that 2020 was not a good year for utility-scale projects in Mexico, we were fortunate to supply our modules to three big Mexican projects in 2020: Calera Solar, together with Mitsui; Cañada Honda, together with Next Energy: and La Lucha (located in Torreon, Coahuila), owned by Northland Power. We consider that the number of projects in 2021 will be even lower. We are aiming to participate in one of the few that could be built this year. For this reason, we are increasing our efforts in the DG segment. It is the best use of our technology and is certainly a worthy cause. We are investing strongly to increase the team in this regard. It is a segment that can only grow further.

 

Q: How do you think Mexico could make the best use of its DG resources?

A: I believe that smart technologies and storage will become a part of DG. It is a matter of bringing costs down, especially when Mexican consumers have to pay higher electricity prices. This makes sense, especially in areas like Baja California. Because this area is not connected to the main grid, battery storage is already viable. However, there are other efforts that can be taken to promote this segment, such as raising the cap for extensive permitting requirements. In Mexico the cap is at 0.5MW, whereas in Brazil it is 5MW. There is no real justification to set it at 0.5MW. There are already talks about increasing the cap to 1MW. If this can be achieved, it would open up many opportunities for the C&I segment. We would certainly welcome this initiative.

Another issue would be to get rid of the importation duties for solar modules, which are still the costliest part of a solar installation. The tax is aimed at protecting the local industry but it cannot sufficiently supply the local market. Our goal is to prioritize the security and quality of our products by bringing costs down and increasing project viability, as well as increasing the possibility to spend on storage.

 

Q: What are Trina Solar’s plans for 2021?

A: Our main targets will be to grow in the DG-area and participate in the few utility-scale projects that are set to take place. The fact that we have to focus more on DG also boosts the company’s approach to defining a strategy. In the utility-scale segment, strategy is quite simple: you try to win tenders and convince customers of your technology and bankability. In DG, you need a deeper strategy and you must consider who you want to sell to, the number of loyal distributors will you employ, and who will work with you. We want to be closer to the Mexican customer, meaning we have to reach more local markets. This means a stronger focus on brand promotion activities and local training. We are also planning to implement a training platform for the Mexican companies that will be using the Trina Solar platform. We do this so that they can learn the basics and other relevant aspects required to build low-voltage installations in residential and small commercial segments. We want to train people so that their first experience with solar goes smoothly. We are partnering with other companies to make this happen. The training platform will go online in a month or two.

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