What solar shakeout? U.S. and China firms say there’s room for all
When California’s SunPower and China’s Suntech strode onstage at an industry conference last week, onlookers braced themselves for a bit of sabre-rattling, or at least an animated debate about two global superpowers’ role in solar energy.
Some bet on an entertaining battle of words just a day after Robert F. Kennedy, Jr took to the stage at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, California and said that the United States was in an “arms race” with the Chinese to make solar panels.
Instead, Tom Werner with California-based SunPower and Zhengrong Shi at Chinese panel maker Suntech were all smiles and even bordeline chummy — on the surface at least — preaching cooperation rather than competition.
Asked about the potential for U.S. manufacturers to do business in China, SunPower’s chief executive Werner said the country would be a “huge opportunity.”
“Understanding the market and being proximate to the market is always an advantage … Partnering with a Chinese company would be a distinct advantage,” Werner said.
“I look forward to seeing Dr. Shi some time in the next few months and you can help me meet the right people,” Werner added, as he extended his hand.
“We will work together,” Shi said as the audience laughed and applauded their handshake.
Earlier in the session, Shi said U.S.-based First Solar’s plans to build a massive solar plant in China shows that “the Chinese market is also open to all technologies, to all manufacturers. Anybody can participate in the market.”
But Werner did slip in later that, while he believed there was indeed an “arms race” brewing, he said the only way to win wasn’t by dropping the price.
“Do you really think the solar customer is completely satisfied and it’s all about price?” he told reporters after the panel.