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Amid pandemic, Chinese companies offer upbeat solar outlook

Despite recent stock market plunges and growing fears of economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic, the global solar market is on track to expand by about 20% this year, according to Chinese manufacturer JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd.

"All of our customers on the project side have [stuck] to their plans, and we have been requested to ship out all the modules and follow the schedules closely," said Gener Miao, JinkoSolar's chief marketing officer, on a March 13 earnings call. "So we have not received any signal from our customer end saying, 'Hey, please stop, there's force majeure or there's big impact because of the virus.'"

Even in Italy, where a countrywide lockdown was imposed to try to contain the virus, some customers "are continuing to ask us to ship those products even if the logistics take longer than expected," Miao said.

JinkoSolar, which shipped about 83% of its solar modules to customers outside of China in 2019, expects installations worldwide, from all providers, to reach between 140,000 MW and 150,000 MW this year.

Longgen Zhang, CEO of polysilicon producer Daqo New Energy Corp. also expects global solar demand to exceed 140,000 MW this year, the executive said on a March 11 earnings call.

"I feel the majority of our development work will continue even under the difficult or sensitive environment," Yumin Liu, CEO of Chinese solar project developer ReneSola Ltd., which is developing nearly 200 MW of solar projects in the U.S., said on a March 13 earnings call.

"We may see a possible delay of the construction work a little bit. It's a little bit too early to see the real impact from the situation, but ... we do have some flexibility in the development cycle," Liu said. "I feel confident that ... in this whole year, the delay of this one, two, three or more months will not stop us or will not slow down our development activities."

Others see risks that 2020 could be a down year for the solar industry, potentially its first since at least the 1980s, according to market researcher BloombergNEF. The firm cut its global demand forecast March 12 to between 108,000 MW and 143,000 MW from an earlier range of 121,000 MW to 152,000 MW due to new policies in China that are expected to delay some projects until 2021.

Philip Shen, a managing director at ROTH Capital Partners LLC, said there is likely to be "a substantial amount of demand destruction in the U.S. and Europe" this year due to the pandemic.

If the U.S. resorts to domestic travel restrictions, project construction could be "limited," Clean Energy Associates Ltd. CEO Andy Klump said March 12.

JinkoSolar CFO Haiyun Cao said the company could "mitigate some risk" by redirecting shipments if there are disruptions in certain countries.

JinkoSolar expects its solar module shipments to increase by at least 26% this year to between 18,000 MW and 20,000 MW. The virus outbreak in China forced the company to delay shipping between 400 MW and 500 MW of solar panels during the first quarter, but supply chains have "improved significantly," the company said.

"We're confident we can achieve [20,000 MW of shipments in 2020] because we roughly have exposure to over 100 countries," Cao said.