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Monica_55905 Jun 30

Interview: Gulnara Abdullina, Jinko Solar

Interview: Gulnara Abdullina, Jinko Solar image
General Manager for Africa and the Middle East, Gulnara Abdullina gives us a broader picture of the latest tech developments of the company, what does the sector need to continue thriving in Africa, and what has been the impact of Covid-19 for them. 
Since the beginning, Jinko Solar’s mission has been to change the way we generate and use electricity, and to enable a sustainable future by delivering the cleanest, most efficient and economic solar energy solutions. Is the world now catching up with you in that aspect? How is the sector different nowadays, and what still needs to change, in order to achieve your goals?

Yes, of course, we cannot do this alone. We are the solution provider, but there are other participants in this process that need to join hands with us in order to take this to large-scale. I am talking about the power sector, the government, investors, banks, EPC contractors and Balance of Systems (BOS) providers. Things of course are getting better, and you can easily see this if you look at the solar industry, which has been growing rapidly over the past few years. In the past 5 years it grew 20% per annum on average, and last year has represented almost half of new power capacity additions.

As an equipment provider we have put our five cents into the PV deployment growth; in the past 10 years the capex of the solar plants has gone down by 80%, and the biggest contributor to this cost reduction was the solar module cost, which was in turn also reduced by 90%. That happened alongside efficiency improvements, which are of course just as important.

So the solar sector is, indeed, growing, but it’s still less than 3% of the total power mix, so we still have a long way to go. However, one factor which I believe to be most important is the regulatory framework. Thankfully solar and other renewable energy sources are not that dependant on government funding. There will of course be some sort of stimulus needed for, let’s say, rural electrification, especially in Africa and other emerging economies, but when it comes to the utility scale, what we need is a bankable solution. And for that we need a working regulatory framework and a political will.

Renewables and solar specifically have already reached the grid parity, where levelled cost of electricity (LCOE) is beating that of fossil fuels, and recently wind power LCOEs as well. That is already great, but I think the removal of the subsidies for fossil fuels will also expedite the clean energy eruption across a number of countries, even oil-rich ones, which we have already seen quite significantly now, moving their focus from generating and driving their income from oil and gas, to including clean energy into the mix. We have seen that in Saudi Arabia and UAE - there’s a gradual subsidies removal that is taking place across various countries.

Your new Tiger Pro Module has recently launched, and is breaking records for power output and efficiency in delivering more electricity. Could you tell us more about its features and how it differs from the previous Cheetah Module?

If we look, again, to where we were ten years ago, we were talking about 250W panels at most - that’s your 2 square metre panel, with an efficiency of more or less 13% or 14%, striving to reach 15%. Nowadays our Tiger Pro Module is achieving 580W, in terms of the power output, it’s only slightly bigger than the original 2 square metres, and the efficiency of the module is 21.03%. That’s over a 50% efficiency increase which has been a game-changer for us and the solar industry in general.

So the Tiger Pro module uses a slightly bigger cell, and we’re using our proprietary technology tiling ribbon, which maximises the power density and decreases the gaps between the cells. This tilling ribbon also reflects more sunlight back into the module. So it’s a more power-dense module which captures more electricity. It comes in two formats, it can be mono-facial, so that the sunlight is only absorbed by the front side, and bifacial, with which you can generate additional energy yield by absorbing sunlight by the back side as well.

Proud as we are of our technology, we cannot move alone. There’s the surrounding infrastructure which should be keeping up with us, and that’s the balance of systems. Using this higher efficiency, higher power output modules are also driving the cost of balance systems down, and inverters and structures manufacturers are also adapting their products to keep up with a new industry standard.

What interesting developments have you observed lately, and what has presented unpredicted challenges?

As of the end of last year Middle East and Africa region had about 15GW of solar PV capacity installed, 25% of it was built with Jinko modules.

What we are seeing at the moment in Sub-Saharan Africa is some of our utility scale projects finally seeing the green light. Some of these projects might have taken up 10 years to be fully developed, and usually a lot of political and economic changes may also delay the process from the regulatory perspective, but now those projects are coming in.

I think this is the future of the utility scale solar in Sub-Saharan Africa, projects within the range of 20-50 MW, because that’s compatible with the existing grid. Another trend we’re seeing in the area is related to solar for mining - we’re finally seeing the diesel displacements happening more often. Three years ago you could see one showcase for the entire continent, whereas now it has become a more regular occurrence.

Storage is another exciting development in the sector, not least because the costs are going down dramatically, which makes this technology more viable. This makes battery storage a feasible solution to complement renewables and therefore satisfy and better match electricity demand.

On the distributed generation side, we’re seeing some decently sized markets in Africa, especially in South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and so forth. On the commercial and industrial space, we can see that this sector keeps on growing, and some Tier 2 markets are coming up. However, the corporate PPAs is still a hurdle for Africa, because there is some difficulty in aggregating such assets into something bankable with a bankable off taker.

You have a large presence in Africa - could you tell us more about your projects, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa?

We are currently delivering to several projects in Africa, 50 MW in Togo as an example. It has been an interesting journey, mostly because the project is taking place in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. First, we had issues with modules manufacturing and shipping out of China, and by the time shipments reached African coast, COVID touched the continent, affecting the project construction. Thankfully the last batches should be arriving as we speak, and we hope the project will be connected by the end of the summer.

That is just one of the projects which have been a direct proposal from a regional IPP, and we do see more and more projects like this. The challenge usually with this kind of direct proposal project is that it’s not necessarily bankable from the off-take standpoint, so more often than not you have to go ahead and build it all equity and then post-commissioning will have better chances to re-finance it. That’s the reason behind why these projects are not picking up at a larger scale. Of course, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) are playing an extremely important role in financing Sub-Saharan African projects. DFIs also open the dialogue between the different parties that come together for an energy project, especially with the respective governments, as well as promoting a favourable regulatory framework. An example of this is IFC, with their promotion of their Scaling Solar programme, which has been executed successfully in some countries such as Zambia, Ethiopia and Senegal - and there are many more in the making.

So yes, DFIs streamline the whole process, and they help create a bankable project that attracts investors to step in, even for smaller scale projects.

In the new COVID reality, the whole world has had to adapt rapidly. Not only are you still on the top of the wave, thanks to the superb performance of your products, but you’ve also given back to the community, with your recent donation of masks. What have been your other involvements with the Coronavirus recovery strategy?

On a global level, we have donated 1 million masks across the world, to demonstrate solidarity.

Locally in China we have donated 2 million dollars for the epidemic prevention and control. Also our management has made their own private contributions to some communities in China.

During the Covid-19 crisis we haven’t stopped working, but the health and safety of our workers has been our priority at all times, and we’ve always ensured that they are fully protected in order to carry on with manufacturing.

To our partners in Africa and institutions in the region we have delivered 100,000 masks, to over 20 countries. In addition to that, we have donated modules to 4 Covid-19 isolation centres in Nigeria, helping them power up. We have also helped two hospitals in Zambia by sending them panels.

We have been working hard to accommodate clients’ needs affected by Covid-19 crisis globally, and just this month we have been witnessing businesses gradually coming back. As Maya Angelou put it, “every storm runs out of rain”, the sun will keep shining, and Africa will need more power. Thus, we remain hopeful that together we will weather this storm.