PV Talk: How a global solar association could ease trade woes

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Last week, a leak to the media revealed that Israeli, Italian and Brazilian solar trade associations were among a group looking to build a global PV trade body. Oliver Schäfer, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) tells PV Tech how much progress has been made, what a worldwide group could achieve and why it's essential that American and Chinese groups are on board.

Talks continued at Intersolar Europe but Schaefer says it will likely take close to 18 months before they were in a position to commence work. Source: EPIA.

PV Tech: How much progress has the potential new association made so far?

Oliver Schäfer: The process started about a year ago. They brought together different associations from around the globe and have been meeting by phone, internet and in person with the goal of establishing a global solar power association. There was a meeting at Intersolar in Munich, which included me as president of EPIA. There was no fundamental document about what shape this should take, who should fund it, who should run it, how should the governance work. There is a clear idea to be a global voice for the industry but no real understanding of any details.

We at EPIA felt that at that moment there needed to be some support, to start on the basics and to create an outline of certain things and what this association should look like. This is what we offered to do in Munich, to come up with this draft. That is the document that was leaked, which we did not want. We wanted to discuss this among the steering committee, then more broadly with other associations and only then would it have gone public. We are far away from being ready to go public.

PV Tech: What needs to happen before more information can launch publicly?

OS: The timeline that has been outlined in the leak, which suggests we would be ready to go public on an association in October, I don’t think that is realistic. I have no idea who put that forward. We are now at a stage of having a serious paper with the basics and now we can go ahead and have discussions with all the big associations.

The groups involved right now like the Spanish, Brazilian and Italian associations, they are great guys and great associations, some with a smaller market, some with a bigger one but in the end you need the Americans, the Chinese, the Australians, the Japanese, you need EPIA fully behind it.

This requires much more debate, realistically it could happen next year but I wouldn’t even commit myself to that. It will take some time to get all these seriously big organisations behind it.

PV Tech: Can it go ahead without the big three of US, China and Japan?

OS: No. How could it? Look at the big American firms like my own, SunPower, and First Solar too. China is responsible for 70% of the manufacturing. Even look at Australia, this is a 1GW market, there aren’t many of them around the world. As much respect as I have for the Israeli and Brazilian markets, if you want to represent the global industry you need to represent a certain market size and a certain production capacity, to do that you need the US, China, Japan and Europe fully behind it. I don’t think it makes sense to do to without them. You wouldn’t have the credibility to say you speak for the global PV industry.

PV Tech: One of the big issues that often splits trade associations is trade tariffs. How would a global association deal with the current complex array of international trade actions?

OS: If you look at all the big associations, including EPIA, they all take a position. Some members don’t like it, that is very clear, but most big associations, including the Chinese and the Americans, have taken a position that says ‘we don’t want trade conflicts, we’re a global business and we don’t want any national restrictions’. All the major associations have taken that position. This is why we need a global voice.

PV Tech: Would the trade restrictions be one of the main issues for any global association?

OS: Yes definitely. We want a global association to have a global understanding of what is a global industry. Solving these global trade conflicts would certainly be one of the roles the association should fulfil. It is also about representation at global bodies, from the IEA, the WTO, the United Nations – who would represent solar at the climate talks for example? This is where we would need a global voice.

PV Tech: Do you think a global lobbying voice will become more important as solar increasingly competes with established fuels?

OS: The question that we have to ask ourselves as an industry is do we want to fight with the fossil fuel industry or do we want to partner with parts of the fossil fuel industry? Technically, what I see for the next 20-30 years, we won’t enter global 100% renewables scenario so we need to look at what can be achieved by solar, wind and gas. These are questions that need to be discussed by a global association. Electricity markets are different around the world but globally we should be seeking partnerships that make sense and can help our industry to grow and I don’t think we should be seriously excluding anything until it has been discussed globally?

PV Tech: What happens next?

OS: Our paper was leaked unfortunately and we don’t want the initiative to lose credibility so what I have been doing is continuing the conversations among the steering committee. Right now I am contacting the presidents of the big associations in Japan, the US, Korea and China, providing them with the scope paper and the steering committee’s work so they can see what has been done so far and they don’t have to figure it out from the press. Most people are getting ready for holidays now so it will take time for them to get familiar with the context. Some time in September I will have conversations with the presidents of the big associations and once we have done this, the next stage is to create a larger steering committee with the bigger associations. 

Source: Flickr/US AID.
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