'Wrong Policy'

China’s Sun King Takes on Trump

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    China’s Trina Solar, the world’s largest solar panel producer, poses a threat to European and U.S. rivals, including SolarWorld.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Trina Solar has taken advantage of economies of scale in Asia to challenge Solarworld’s market position in Europe.
    • Faced with dwindling cash reserves, Solarworld has teetered on the brink of collapse for years.
    • The E.U. imposed anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar companies in 2013, claiming that Chinese solar panels were being sold at below market price.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf
Key Speakers At The Boao Forum For Asia
Gao Jifan, Trina Solar's CEO, has his opinions ready. Source: Bloomberg

Unlike most Chinese executives who tend to shy away from publicity, Gao Jifan isn’t one to mince his words.

The chief executive of China’s Trina Solar, the world’s largest maker of solar panels, has a lot to get off his chest, criticizing everyone from Donald Trump to Elon Musk to Germany’s largest solar company SolarWorld.

In an interview with Handelsblatt, conducted before U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order undoing parts of predecessor Barack Obama’s climate change regulations, Mr. Gao said Mr. Trump was in denial about global warming and his support for coal and oil producers was doomed to fail.

“With the development of traditional energy, there will be more CO2 emissions,” Mr Gao said. “Everyone knows that Trump is wrong, you cannot ignore global warming. So I don’t think Trump’s policy can last long.”

The United States risks falling five to 10 years behind in solar energy, said the Chinese entrepreneur, who founded Trina Solar two decades ago and has recently taken it private again, delisting it from the New York Stock Exchange together with Chinese investors.

“SolarCity invested $1 billion in a project in New York state and 70 percent of it is government subsidized. ... I’m sure we will do better.”

Gao Jifan, Trina Solar CEO

Despite Mr. Trump’s pro-fossil fuel policies, the Chinese CEO was still interested in investing in the United States if the financial incentives were right. “The U.S. side reached out to us and we talked. Nothing is decided yet. We will see. There is nothing more that I can say at this point in time,” Mr. Gao said.

He believes he would do better than Elon Musk’s sun power producer SolarCity, at least when it comes to a New York-based project.

“SolarCity invested $1 billion in a project in New York state and 70 percent of it is government subsidized. It’s been two years now and they have no results with that project yet. I’m sure we will do better. If they can provide an equal or better support to us, then we can consider it,” Mr. Gao said.

The executive also wasn’t short on opinion when it came to SolarWorld, Germany’s largest solar panel maker, which lobbied hard and successfully for E.U. import tariffs on Chinese sun power products to be extended since their implementation in 2013.

“SolarWorld is a company without any competitiveness. It will and has to drop out of the market sooner or later. You cannot rely on government protectionism or subsidies forever. Solarworld will die, the question is just when,” Mr. Gao said.

“Companies with no competitiveness, no matter if they are German, Chinese, Japanese nor American, they will die out. Would you blame Apple for the death of Nokia? No.”

Gao Jifan, Trina Solar CEO

Once the world’s second-largest manufacturer of solar modules, SolarWorld has fallen to 15th place over the years, with its production capacity now a fourth of Trina Solar’s. The Bonn-based company has teetered on the brink of collapse for years; it recorded a €92 million loss last year after a €33 million loss in 2015.

Competition from China has hit SolarWorld hard, which faces higher costs because it runs its entire supply chain, from the procurement of raw materials to manufacturing solar modules, packaging and sales. Solarworld has successfully lobbied the European Commission to extend anti-dumping measures against companies such as Trina Solar for another 18 months.

“The arguments of Solarworld are nonsense. Companies with no competitiveness, no matter if they are German, Chinese, Japanese nor American, they will die out. Would you blame Apple for the death of Nokia? No. So why do you blame us?” Mr. Gao said.

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