SolarWorld dismisses tariff scares

Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Industries America, has dismissed as scaremongering claims that fresh tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese PV kit would dent momentum in the US market.

“A few [extra] cents on the panel won’t destroy the market,” Dulani, who took the top role at Germany-based SolarWorld’s US subsidiary last autumn, tells Recharge. “But everybody has their own opinions. We can’t change anybody’s opinions.”

He points out that critics of the first round of the trade case, which saw the US slap tariffs on Chinese cells in 2012, were wrong in their predictions about the impact the ruling would have.

“People said the market would go down, jobs would be lost, in the first trade case,” he says, noting that the US added more PV capacity in 2013 than any previous year.

While acknowledging that the latest trade case has a broader scope than the one in 2012 – this time extending to Taiwanese cells – Dulani believes the US solar industry will continue to find ways to drive down costs and grow.

“Every few months we see a person – who is sometimes involved [in the trade case] and sometimes not involved – just trying to kill the confidence of our industry. On the contrary, the market is growing, it’s flourishing.”

Recent allegations by the US government that hackers working for the Chinese army spied on SolarWorld during the last trade investigation underscore just how tilted the playing field has become, he says.

SolarWorld maintains the largest PV factory in North America in the state of Oregon, where it has 500MW of cell and 350MW of module capacity.

Dulani insists that SolarWorld is “always open” to negotiations regarding an amicable resolution to the trade case. But the proposals currently on the table – including the one put forward by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) lobbying group – are insufficient.

As it stands, “the SEIA proposal does not address the unfair trade practices” of China’s PV manufacturers, he says.

While SolarWorld is content in its current role as a pure module supplier, Dulani acknowledges that amid the flurry of financial and business model innovations in the US sector, the company is “continuously” evaluating new approaches.

Rival US-based module supplier SunPower has a growing solar-lease business, and First Solar’s acquisition of TetraSun means it may soon be targeting the high-end market segment where SolarWorld has traditionally thrived.

“I don’t think we’ll change our channel strategy tomorrow,” Dulani says. “But I won’t say we don’t look at it. We continuously look at it.”