SHANGHAI (April 23, 2:50 p.m. ET) — Ever since Wuxi, China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. became the world's largest supplier of solar panels, China has dominated the solar market. A push to improve the technology and increase solar capacity domestically is attracting more materials suppliers to the market.
“A very important industry segment is more and more becoming the solar industry,” said Dahai Yu, a member of the executive board of Evonik Holdings AG. “New models [of solar panels] need to be more efficient, they need to have a long lifetime and they need to be more economic.”
Yu spoke at a news conference at Chinaplas, the annual plastics and rubber exhibition held recently in Shanghai.
In 2011, China's market for solar modules was the third largest in the world and the country's policy makers intend to expand the market even further. As part of China's 12th five-year plan, China has increased its PV installation targets from 10 to 15GW by 2015 and up to 50GW by 2020.
With around 700 companies in the industry, China is also the world's biggest exporter of solar panels. In the United States, for example, China's solar companies provide 47 percent of solar panel installations, an abundance that has caused trade frictions and even sanctions from the U.S. government.
Evonik arrived at Chinaplas with a range of products and applications intended for use in the solar industry. The company recently launched Flexoskin barrier film, which covers flexible photovoltaic modules to protect them against the wind and the weather. To get the necessary structural stability, the EVA film has to be crosslinked by peroxides during the lamination process.
At the show, Evonik also displayed Plexiglas solar material, which is especially suitable for the demands of outdoor CPV (concentrating photovoltaics) applications. The material provides transmission properties especially adjusted to the requirements of solar cells.
Other companies getting in on the action include Solvay Specialty Polymers, which is building a 120 million euro ($157 million) production plant for fluorinated polymers at the company's industrial site in Changshu. Solvay-Rhodia's research and development center in Shanghai is also certified to test and evaluate fire-resistant materials, important in the manufacture of solar panels.
Reiner Rettig, the head of polycarbonates in Asia Pacific for Bayer Material Science AG, said the solar power industry also is exciting on the consumer side.
In addition to windmills and solar panels applications, Bayer is working on developing plastics applications for LED lights. In the lights, plastics can be used for conductive material, for lens material and for clear material that helps diffuse the light.
“I'm very convinced that LED lighting will change the way that we're using light and it won't take 10 years to happen,” Rettig said. “Everything about renewable energy and energy savings is exciting.”