Solar panel makers battered by cheap Chinese imports
Solar panel manufacturers are struggling to survive in the business in the face of stiff competition from low-priced imported panels and slowing demand for solar home systems, industry operators said.
Some of the panel makers have already suspended production, while others have cut production to stay afloat.
“All of us are in a very bad shape. Poor quality Chinese panels are imported and sold at prices much lower than what we can offer,” said Moshiur Rahman, chairman of Parasol Energy.
Parasol recently restarted operation after a pause of three years to make panels for setting up a 10MW solar-based power plant in Panchagarh.
Local assemblers have to sell panels at Tk 55-60 per watt peak, whereas importers can sell the same at Tk 40-42 per watt peak, said Golam Baki Masud, general secretary of Solar Module Manufacturers Association of Bangladesh.
Local assemblers import components of solar panels at zero duty, but the same benefit is applicable for import of complete panels.
Although the government has developed standards to ensure the quality of solar panels, in the absence of testing facility they are not checked during import.
As a result, low-quality panels are being imported and are sold at a cheaper rate, said Masud, also the managing director of Chittagong-based Greenfinity Energy.
The company started operations in June 2011 with the capacity to produce 15MW of solar panels a year. Now, the production in his plant is very insignificant.
Entrepreneurs said they have invested Tk 200 crore to make solar panels; their plants can make panels with a capacity of 80-100MW of electricity per year, which is more than the demand.
At present, the annual production of panels by local manufacturers would be 10MW at best, said Masud, citing that panels with capacity of around 70MW of electricity are imported in a year.
“In a nutshell, many of the plants have been closed. Plants that are still in operation are limping,” said Ansar Uddin, managing director of Electro Solar Power Ltd, based in Ashulia on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Electro Solar Power was established in 2009 as the country's first solar module assembling plant with a production capacity of 10MW electricity a year.
Manufacturers said because of import and sale of low-quality panels, customers are also deprived of proper panels that can provide them with electricity for 20 years.
The demand for solar panels has slumped due to the decline in installation of solar home systems, said Munawar Misbah Moin, managing director of Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy.
The new market for solar home systems has not grown enough to create demand.
“I still believe there is prospect in the sector. We have to speed up the process,” he said, while urging the government to take steps to boost demand for solar panels.
Local investors started assembling solar panels when solar home systems were becoming popular, said Siddique Zobair, member of Sustainable & Renewable Energy Development Authority.
“They expected a big market at that time. But this market has reached a saturation point,” he said, while citing that over 40 lakh units of solar home systems have already been installed.
However, the opportunity for local assemblers will rise because of the establishment of solar-based power plants.
The government will buy electricity from these plants based on power purchase agreements, according to power division.
“If they can make quality panels, the opportunity will grow in the coming days,” Zobair said.
He said the government is now working to set up a testing facility, which is expected to be up and running within six months.
“We will go for framing regulations as the testing facility is ready -- we have to ensure standardisation.”
Rahman of Parasol said the Chinese government provides incentives to solar panel makers there. “Our government should also give incentive and support local manufacturing,” he said, while demanding at least 20 percent higher duty on the finished products than the raw materials.