Yingli cements EU footprint with major French contract

China’s Yingli Green has stormed past its European competitors to nab a supply contract for France’s largest photovoltaic array, underscoring the rising influence of Asian solar firms even deep in the EU market.

French utility GDF Suez, the world’s largest utility by sales, is developing the 33-megawatt (MW) array in southeastern France along with two smaller financial partners.

Yingli will deliver the modules between October and April 2011 to Spanish engineering and construction group ACS, which is building the turnkey solar park for GDF.

ACS will install more than 14,500 crystalline panels near Curbans, in the province of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

Like many of its competitors, Yingli is racing to diminish its exposure to the German market, which is blazing at present but set to soften considerably after the country’s solar feed-in tariff is cut 16% in July.

Some two-thirds of Yingli’s revenues came from Germany last year, but the company has defended its narrow revenue base by claiming that many of panels it sells to German wholesalers are eventually distributed to neighbouring EU countries.

Chief executive Liansheng Miao says Yingli’s latest sale is a further indication of this multiplier effect, wherein its primary customers are then marketing and installing Yingli modules in other markets.

The world’s major module suppliers are holding their breath as they wait to see which markets – if any – are able to pick up the slack left by Germany in July.

The deal with ACS provides Yingli with “positive visibility into the demand momentum” picking up in secondary but promising EU markets in France, Italy and the Czech Republic, Liansheng says.

Yingli swelled its module shipments 86.6% last year to 525.3MW, clawing its way to a 10% share of the global market. The firm claims its shipments this year could reach 1 gigawatt, but many analysts are sceptical of the market’s ability to absorb such an increase.

Yingli is in the process of padding on 300MW of module capacity at its Baoding headquarters and another 100MW in Hainan province.