Europe must step up solar efforts to compete with cheap China panels – Meyer Burger CEO

BERLIN (Reuters) – European governments must create a fair market for solar power manufacturers on the continent who can’t compete with low-cost Chinese imports, the head of solar cell maker Meyer Burger told Reuters on Friday.

China dominates global solar supply but U.S. factory construction is also soaring on the back of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Switzerland’s Meyer Burger Technology, which runs Europe’s largest solar cell factory in Germany, said on Thursday a “flood” of Chinese solar modules into the European market, with a total capacity of 85 gigawatts, offered at prices well below manufacturing costs, had forced the company to cut prices.

It reported a first-half operating loss of 43.3 million Swiss francs ($49.1 million) despite a 70% rise in sales.

“If China distorts these markets in such a way that it ultimately owns this industry alone, then politicians have to step in and do something to counteract it,” Chief Executive Gunter Erfurt said on Friday.

The European Union wants to expand solar module production capacity in the bloc to cover at least 40% of the annual expected demand under the REPowerEU and Green Pact initiatives by 2030.

But it is facing crucial funding decisions to create a solar supply chain that is competitive and sustainable.

Erfurt said the United States had successfully decoupled itself from China through the IRA, which provides a tax credit of 30% of the cost of building or upgrading factories that produce renewable energy components.

Benefiting from the IRA subsidy, Meyer Burger has withdrawn expansion plans for its German factory and will instead build a factory in Colorado, Erfurt added.

“We found a great factory in Colorado Springs within seven weeks. We’re getting $1.4 billion IRA money for this scale factory,” he said.

Erfurt said Europe had yet to see tangible results despite the EU’s call for a rapid expansion of solar power and an acceleration in manufacturing capacity to reduce the region’s reliance on imports from Asia.

He suggested that photovoltaic companies in Europe could benefit from a customs waiver on imported raw materials and components like the one firms in China enjoy.

($1 = 0.8815 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)