Trina Solar is a Chinese manufacturer of silicon solar panels. The company has primarily sold its panels to customers in Germany, Spain and Italy, and the United States.
With the growing concern over global warming, solar and other forms of renewable energy have received support in the form of government tax breaks and subsidies to make the technologies more competitive. Countries such as Germany and Spain pay a subsidy for every kWh of energy produced, while the US favors a system based on utility regulation and consumer tax incentives. The solar PV market has been hampered by silicon shortages as a majority of PV systems use purified silicon for their products - and Trina is no different. Despite thin-film technologies having an average conversion efficiency that is 9% lower than silicon PV, with the silicon crunch and lower production costs, they are a growing force in the PV market. Fortunately for Trina, silicon shortages look to be nearing an end with suppliers ramping up production and completing new facilities to supply the market. TSL has been an established provider in the international solar market, and with the approval from Underwriters Laboratories looks to compete with the established suppliers in the growing US market, First Solar, Suntech Power Holdings, and SunPower.
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Trina produces crystalline silicon panels that make up approximately 90% of the PV market. The average thin-film cell had a conversion efficiency of merely 6%, while the average crystalline silicon cell had a conversion efficiency of 15%. Despite such a low average conversion efficiency, some thin-film manufacturers have shown promise with CIGS and Cadmium Telluride(CdTe) thin-films, as they have achieved cell conversion efficiencies approaching 20% in the lab. Conversion efficiencies at this level make CIGS and CdTe more efficient than the other thin-film technology, Amorphous Silicon, and even more efficient than many crystalline silicon panels. Although thin-film cells are becoming more efficient, the best thin-film modules still fall short of the best silicon cells, such as SunPower's, which have a conversion efficiency of 23.4%.
The company uses monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon in its solar cells, using 7.5 grams of silicon per watt. In the silicon PV industry, the cost of the silicon accounts for approximately 45% of each module’s manufacturing cost. This means that when silicon prices rise TSL is forced to either absorb the extra cost, or pass it on to consumers. The price of silicon has increased as a result of the rapid growth of the PV industry and the continued demand for processed silicon from electronics manufacturers. The increased demand in the world market has caused severe shortages, but these shortages are being addressed by silicon manufacturers and likely will not last much longer.
Solar is not an economic choice in today’s energy market due to the large initial investments that are required and the efficiency of available panels. The large initial installation costs and uncertainty about the panels’ longevity deter most electric generators from investing in solar power plants. Other, more conventional electric sources have proven to be more predictable and cost effective. As a result, commercial and private PV systems have become reliant on subsidies and other government incentives to make them economical. These incentinves have been spurred by rising energy prices, fears of climate change, and desires for energy independence.
Despite falling housing values and a tough market for new homes, houses that are built with integrated solar systems are flying off the market - at twice the rate of grid-based houses. Couple the higher sales rates with legislative tax breaks for residential solar panels, like the California One Million Solar Homes initiative, and housing manufacturers have strong incentives to add solar panels to their construction plans. As Trina enters the US market, home builders and the private homeowner represent a significant new market for Trina's expanding production capacity.
Trina solar has estabilished itself as a competitive supplier in the European and Chinese solar panel markets. The company is also looking to enter the US market and compete with the established members First Solar (FSLR), Suntech Power Holdings, and SunPower (SPWR), as well as the expanding concentrated solar market. Other big players in the global PV market are relatively small segments of larger corporations like BP (BP), Kyocera (KYO) and Sharp Corporation (SHCAY).