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Tech Focus: Taking on China in solar module market
Adrian Ferraretto and his team at Tindo Solar are daring to go where everyone has feared to tread – establishing a new solar module manufacturing business in Australia.
The plant, which will have a capacity of 60MW a year, and which will begin commercial production in the next few weeks, is running counter to all received wisdom – that no one can compete with low cost Chinese manufacturers.
Tindo, which means the sun in the local indigenous language, will be the only manufacturer in Australia, following the decision by Silex Systems to cease cell production, and put module manufacturing on hold because of the competition from Chinese imports. In an interview with RenewEconomy, Ferraretto explains where he hopes to succeed where others failed. Here is an edited transcript.
Q: The first question is why?
A: Well, China has taken over the solar panel industry. It used to be a small player and now it is a huge player, and I’ve been really scratching my head about that because there is no logical reason why solar panels can be made any cheaper in China than anywhere else in the world. It’s not like it’s a labour intensive process, it’s all machines and people in white lab coats. It’s just a general attitude, particularly here in Australia, that China is the factory of the world and whatever we do it would be cheaper and better coming out of China.
It’s something that has been in my head for a long time. I was the head of SolarShop in Australia, and when I was in that role I used to see factories around the word. I’m a mechanical engineer so I have an interest in that. It’s something I always wanted to do and I got close a couple of years ago, and after I resigned from SolarShop in July 2010 I decided to follow through with this idea to make panels in Australia.
Q: Are you going to be competing directly against Chinese manufacturers?
A: Yes, we are.
Q: That’s counter-intuitive isn’t it?
A: We hope one day to export to China.
Q: Are you serious?
A: Yes, and why not? If we were making panels like the Chinese, we couldn’t compete. Instead of having eight people in my production line, I would need to have 100 people. We have to do it differently here. But having said that, my cost of labour is less than a Chinese factory.
Read the remainder of this interview here.