It has taken Chinese company Jink Solar (NYSE: JKS) just seven years to become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. It has sold more that 4,000 megawatts (MW) worth of PV modules, which have collectively generated 5.19 million megawatt hours (MWh) and prevented more than 2.6million tonnes of carbon emissions.
Arturo Herrero, CSO and Head of Emerging Markets at Jinko Solar, says much of the company’s success is down to how it has differentiated itself in the market. One point of difference is the geographical diversity of its management team. Arturo himself comes from the Spanish city of Barcelona, but has lived for the last 10 years in China.
“The fact that our management team is very international differentiates us from our competitors and gives us a greater understanding of the needs of our international customers,” he says.
Jinko Solar sells its solar PV modules in 64 countries worldwide, has offices in 17 countries and now has its first factory outside China in Cape Town, South Africa. But despite it boasting such a large global reach, Jinko Solar places great emphasis on localisation.
“Our strategy is to be localised in every new market that we enter, with local teams in each office,” explains Arturo. “This is important because it enables us to understand the different customer needs of every market.”
He also believes that the relative youth of Jinko Solar, which was founded in 2007 and long after many of its peers, plays to the company’s advantage.
“Being relatively new means that we have the latest production technology and this makes our costs more competitive,” he remarks. “We also have a lean production structure.”
Jinko Solar also keeps costs down by manufacturing almost all elements of its solar modules in-house. The company is vertically integrated, meaning that it produces the ingots, wafers and cells for its modules.
“The only thing we buy from external suppliers is the silicon; we process this raw material into ingots and from those produce wafers, which we build into the cells,” says Arturo.
“The last step is to assemble the cells into solar modules. All of this is done fully by Jinko Solar in our factory, which our competitors do not do. This gives us an advantage in allowing us to control the costs and ensure strict quality control at every stage of production.”
The final differentiator that Arturo points out is Jinko Solar’s economic stability, which has made it easier to secure finance. “We have been very careful not to enter into big debt, and our cash flow has been positive for a long time,” Arturo explains.
“We have been in net profit since the beginning of 2013 and that has given our company a very good credit rating. More than 65 banks have granted loans and credit for projects using Jinko Solar modules, making us one of the leading solar module suppliers in terms of bankability.”
New factory in Cape Town
Jinko Solar’s decision to open a factory in Cape Town, South Africa, was driven largely by its localisation strategy: to forge ever-closer bonds with its international customer bases. It chose South Africa largely because the country has local content requirements that Jinko Solar could fulfil by having a factory there. The reasoning was that manufacturing solar modules locally and meeting standards such as black empowerment would make Jinko Solar a more eligible supplier for the large South African solar projects auctioned off in tenders.
“We are the first company with modern manufacturing to have local production, to help our customers comply with the local content requirements needed for official South African tenders,” says Arturo.
“The Cape Town factory also enables us to eliminate the costs and carbon emissions involved with transporting products from China. Production itself is a bit more expensive here, but being able to buy materials and deliver modules locally reduces our costs overall.”
Built at a cost of 80 million rand (approximately US$7.4 million), the factory will produce up to 1,300 solar modules per day – equivalent to 120MW of capacity per year.
Arturo adds that the factory was based in Cape Town to benefit from the “professionalism of its people” and its good communication links with Johannesburg.
Opening the Cape Town factory has helped Jinko Solar maintain the largest share of South Africa’s solar market, of approximately 30%. The market is becoming more competitive, says Arturo, but he believes that with the new factory the company will be able to keep a market share of 30-40%.
Jinko Solar’s market share comes from the 300MW of solar generating capacity it has installed in South Africa. This is split across four large projects: the first two in Kathu with 81MW and 94MW; and the latest two for 75MW and 40MW in different locations.
The first, 81MW project was with a joint venture between Italian company Building Energy and South African construction company WBHO; the second, 94MW project was with a joint venture between Spanish developer Axiona and South African company Avenge. The latest two projects, for a total delivery of 115MW, was with Scatec Solar.
Currently Jinko Solar is purely a supplier in South Africa, but it is considering entering future tenders as a developer and independent power producer (IPP). In China it already has 400MW of downstream projects that it has developed independently – one of them boasting 200MW capacity.
Of course, Jinko Solar has many significant projects outside South Africa and China. These include one of 50MW in the United States and one of 62MW in Italy, which when opened was one of the largest in Europe. This continent was initially Jinko Solar’s biggest market before the rest of the world began to embrace renewable energy. The company recently won its first contracts in Latin America, to supply a total of 100MW for Chilean projects owned by Enel.
Innovation and ambition
While building factories and winning international contracts, Jinko Solar is always striving to improve its products. It recently opened a research and development (R&D) centre in China that employs more than 200 engineers, all engaged in increasing the efficiency of its module and developing new products. Their latest innovation is the Eagle module, which is PID-free: not susceptible to power-induced-degradation (PID).
“The Eagle modules can endure temperatures exceeding 80C and humidity exceeding 85% without suffering degradation, meaning they can operate for 25 years even in harsh environments,” explains Arturo. “Their high endurance and 25-year warranty makes them ideal for use in our latest target markets of South Africa and Chile.”
Jinko Solar aims to continue growing its global reach over the next few years, opening more offices and entering new emerging markets. Arturo says the company will simultaneously continue to drive down its production costs and improve its technology.
“Our sales teams, production teams and technical teams will continue striving to offer a large number of customers in a large number of countries the best technical solutions at the lowest cost,” Arturo remarks.
“In the long term, we see ourselves becoming more of an energy supplier in addition to a solar module manufacturer.”
The plan is to spin off Jinko Solar’s IPP division as a new company called Jinko Power, which, depending on market conditions, it could list on either the Hong Kong or Shanghai stock market at the beginning of 2015.
“Although we are doing well as an energy developer and supplier in China, we recognise that it will be a big challenge to do this in the international market,” says Arturo. “Nevertheless, that is our goal and we are confident that we will succeed.”
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