China's photovoltaic solar energy market has seen a dramatic slowdown in the past few months, but a DuPont Co. senior executive said his firm plans to continue investing in the sector, at least for now.
Greater China President Doug Muzyka said DuPont is not slowing investments in the photovoltaic industry, including a new research center in Hong Kong and a manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, announced in May. Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont supplies plastic films, engineering resins and metalized pastes to the photovoltaic industry.
Some published reports have said that about half of China's roughly 350 photovoltaic solar-panel makers have closed since the world economic crisis began this fall, which is consistent with what DuPont has seen, Muzyka said Dec. 10 to attendees of the InnoAsia conference in Hong Kong.
That's a hard slap to a market that was projecting 30 percent annual growth worldwide, as tumbling oil prices have cut demand for solar power. But Muzyka said DuPont still sees long-term potential as the need for solar power and other clean energy grows.
``People associated with the photovoltaics industry here know the global financial crisis has perturbed the market, shall we say, a little bit in the short term. But we do believe this market will continue to be attractive and continue to have a very significant role to play as we go forward, so we are persisting with our investments,'' Muzyka told the conference.
``We are moving forward with our manufacturing facility in Shenzhen on the basis of this being strategically the right thing to do long term,'' he said.
However, Muzyka acknowledged that uncertainties exist: ``Come back in six weeks and ask me if I still think that,'' he said in a subsequent interview at the event. ``It's an extremely volatile period. We're kind of hopeful that the dramatic decline in the last six weeks or two months is not as extreme as what it appears on the surface.''
He said the company wants to be well-positioned when the market returns.
Muzyka said the photovoltaic market is similar to some electronics markets, where speed to market and the ability to closely tie research and manufacturing as DuPont plans with Hong Kong and Shenzhen will be critical. ``The people who are in there late won't make any money,'' he said.
DuPont supplies materials to 18 of the world's 20 largest photovoltaic solar-cell module makers, he said. China, a major manufacturer and exporter of photovoltaic solar cells, does not use them much domestically, but Muzyka thinks that will change in the next few years.
``Many [Chinese] provinces and municipalities have pilots and demonstration projects,'' he said. ``I think it will change quite dramatically over the next three to five years. In fact, one of the reasons why we have this plant in Shenzhen is that these modules, to a great extent, will be sold in China for China projects.''
In recent months, DuPont has announced a series of investments in the photovoltaic industry across several of its product lines, including plans to double manufacturing capacity of Tedlar polyvinyl fluoride films, which act as a backsheet for photovoltaic solar cells.
It also has opened a photovoltaic technical center in Kawasaki, Japan; is planning a solar energy research lab in India; intends to double capacity at a metalized paste facility in Dongguan; and announced it will spend US$150 million to upgrade specialty ethylene copolymers, in part for markets like photovoltaics.
The Shenzhen and Hong Kong facilities will focus on the emerging amorphous silicon thin-film PV market.