十年前，施正荣博士前创办尚德电力（Suntech）时，他做梦也没想过自己的太阳能电池板公司这么迅速就能达到现在这样的高度。尚德电力位于中国无锡，制造的高质低价太阳能电池板远销全球80个国家。作为行业龙头，尚德在2011年的销售额大约为31亿美元，同比增长了7%。不过，尚德遇到的阻碍也不少。激烈的成本削减已经对所有太阳能股造成了损害，尚德也无法幸免。此外，美国商会（The US Chamber of Commerce）最近指称，中国的太阳能公司存在倾销行为。即便如此，施正荣博士仍看好太阳能产业的发展前景，尤其是在中国国内市场不断升温的情况下。这次瑞典达沃斯的世界经济论坛（WEF）期间，他接受了《财富》杂志（Fortune）布莱恩•杜梅因的采访，跟我们分享了他的看法。
When he founded Suntech 10 years ago, Dr. Zhengrong Shi never dreamed his solar panel company would rise so far so fast. Suntech (STP), based in Wuxi, China, builds high-quality, inexpensive solar panels that have been installed in 80 countries. The company, the biggest in the industry, estimates sales for 2011 of roughly $3.1 billion, up 7% from the year before. But obstacles abound. Fierce cost cutting has hurt all solar stocks, Suntech included. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recently accused Chinese solar companies of dumping. Even so, Dr. Shi sees a healthy solar industry ahead, especially as the domestic market in China heats up. He shared his views with Fortune's Brian Dumaine at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Q: Solar panel prices are dropping, yet growth is slowing. What's going on?
A: In 2001 solar power was about $6 a watt; now it is $1. The drop in solar panel prices will slow to 5% to 10% a year. You can imagine it's like a sponge. A lot of water has been squeezed out of the supply chain. The global photovoltaics industry grew 30% last year and will slow to about 20% this year. With the troubles in the eurozone, sales in Germany, one of the biggest markets, are slowing.
This price drop has hurt margins?
Yes. A year ago the industry enjoyed 30% margins, and that's down to 13%. We should be able to maintain 10% margins, and with the big volumes we're producing, it will be a good business.
The U.S. has accused Chinese solar manufacturers of using government subsidies to dump cheap panels on the American market.
I think it's unfair to say that Chinese companies are squeezing out American companies. China has so many solar companies that are failing too. As for subsidies, we never got anywhere close to the $528 million loan the U.S. government gave to Solyndra before it went out of business. Nothing like that. If there's a tariff, the price of solar goes up and many projects become unaffordable and new jobs aren't created.
Where are the opportunities now?
After the Fukushima disaster, Japan shut down most of its reactors and said it would move to renewables. Until now, China has mostly exported solar panels but is turning toward domestic consumption. The market is really taking off and will eventually make the whole global market grow faster again. This year China will install an estimated four to five gigawatts [the rough equivalent of a nuclear power plant]. That's a 10-fold increase from just two years ago.
How big can solar get?
Today it's only about 1% of the global energy market. In many markets we already are price competitive. I think in five years' time solar won't need subsidies and that will help accelerate growth. By 2050, 25% of our electricity will come from solar.