China’s Spending on Green Energy Is Causing a Global Glut
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China’s Spending on Green Energy Is Causing a Global Glut

The country’s massive funding of renewables has drawn odd newcomers and led to an oversupply of solar components

By Sha Hua
Mon, Nov 13, 2023 4:25pmGrey Clock 4 min

China’s newest solar-energy manufacturers include a dairy farmer and a toy maker.

The new entrants are examples of a green-energy spending binge in China that is fueling the country’s rapid build-out of renewable energy while also creating a glut of solar components that is rippling through the industry and stymying attempts to build such manufacturing elsewhere, particularly in Europe.

Since the start of the year, prices for Chinese polysilicon, the building block of solar panels, are down 50% and panels down 40%, according to data tracker OPIS, which is owned by Dow Jones.

Inside China, some companies fear a green bubble is about to pop.

China’s state-guided economy spent nearly $80 billion on clean-energy manufacturing last year, around 90% of all such investment worldwide, BloombergNEF estimates. The country’s annual spending on green energy overall has increased by more than $180 billion a year since 2019, the International Energy Agency says.

The rush of funding hasattracted an unusual array of companies to the bustling business.

Last summer, Chinese dairy giant Royal Group unveiled plans for three new projects. There was a farm with 10,000 milk cows, a dairy processing plant and a $1.5 billion factory to make solar cells and panels.

“The solar industry is improving over the long term, and the market potential is huge,” Royal Group wrote in a document outlining the project last year. More recently, Royal Group said it wants to create synergies between its core agricultural business and photovoltaics, “and promote solar technology to empower dairy owners to reduce costs and increase efficiency,” the company said in a response to The Wall Street Journal.

The milk manufacturer wasn’t alone in jumping on China’s solar bandwagon in the past two years. Other newbies include a jewelry chain, a producer of pollution-control equipment and a pharmaceutical company.

The newcomers are helping an ambitious wind and solar push in China—this year alone the country is set to install roughly as much solar as the U.S. has in total, Rystad Energy estimates.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports of everything from batteries and electric vehicles to solar panels and wind turbines have surged, raising hackles in places such as Europe and the U.S., which are trying to grow their own domestic clean-energy manufacturing.

In solar, the investment is an important reason for the huge oversupply of components, and falling prices that are pummeling profits at manufacturers around the world. Many established Chinese solar companies are warning that the fallout could be grim, with losses or bankruptcies looming.

“The entire industry is about to enter a knockout round,” said Longi Green Energy Technology, one of China’s biggest solar-manufacturing companies, in its half-year financial report in August.

At least 13 companies, including Chinese industry leaders such as Jinko Solar, Trina Solar and Canadian Solar, have put capacity expansion plans on hold, according to TrendForce, a Taiwan-based market intelligence firm.

Many Chinese manufacturers have been trying to unload inventory at bargain prices in Europe, one of the few big solar markets without tariffs or other barriers to panel imports. While European solar developers are delighted, the region’s already hard-pressed manufacturers are crying foul.

Some European producers were already struggling with homegrown challenges such as slow permitting, a lack of skilled labor and high energy costs, making it difficult to compete with Chinese counterparts.

The oversupply was exacerbated by barriers to imports in India and the U.S., which threw off Chinese manufacturers’ forecasts and left their panels languishing in ports and warehouses. The U.S. proved particularly unpredictable with the threatened imposition of antidumping duties and the implementation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which ended up preventing panels made with Chinese polysilicon from entering the country.

The Chinese solar-manufacturing industry has gone through booms and busts before and had its share of odd new entrants. Tongwei Solar began as a fish-feed supplier that acquired a solar-panel maker during the downturn of 2013 to complement its aquaculture business with solar parks. Tongwei is now the largest polysilicon maker in the world.

This time, more than 70 listed companies—ranging from fashion, chemicals and real estate to electrical appliances—have entered the solar sector in 2022, according to data intelligence company InfoLink.

In February, Zhejiang Ming Jewelry, which runs 1,000 gold jewelry stores in China, announced plans to invest $1.5 billion to build a solar-cell factory. Last August, toy maker Mubang High-Tech announced a joint venture with the local government for a $660 million solar-cell production base.

Supply-chain disruptions from the pandemic squeezed inventories and pushed up prices in previous years. European solar buyers ordered large amounts of panels as they became available, while many Chinese manufacturers overestimated demand, said Matthias Taft, chief executive of BayWa r.e., Europe’s biggest solar distributor.

“We and others ordered massively” during the second half of 2022, he said.

The recent drop in solar prices meant Chinese panels are selling for around half of manufacturing cost for members of Europe’s solar-manufacturing industry association, said Johan Lindahl, the group’s secretary-general. Around 40% of the panels manufactured this year by members who responded to the association’s survey were languishing in inventory.

One Norwegian producer of solar wafers, a key panel component, went bankrupt in August. Its sole remaining European rival, NorSun, stopped production in recent weeks because its customers—mostly European solar cell and panel manufacturers—weren’t able to sell their products, said Carsten Rohr, NorSun’s chief commercial officer.

At this rate, Europe’s dependence on Chinese solar is increasing rather than decreasing, said Gunter Erfurt, chief executive of Swiss solar cell and panel manufacturer Meyer Burger. The company has opted to postpone its planned European expansion and instead ship the manufacturing equipment to a new factory in the U.S., which has offered big government subsidies to solar manufacturers.

Market watchers say the oversupply may work itself out faster than expected, because some companies are likely to cancel or postpone expansion plans and others are retiring old factories in favor of new ones.

Still, some Chinese industry executives such as Liu Yiyang, deputy secretary-general of the China Photovoltaic Association, are calling for local governments to tap the brakes on green-tech investment.

In January, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange issued a letter of concern to Suzhou Shijing Technology, known for its pollution-control equipment. The exchange asked Shijing from where it was drawing its investment capital of $1.5 billion to build a solar-cell factory. The company’s total assets are valued at only $450 million.

In its reply, Shijing said 60% of the investment would be provided by the local government, including building the factory infrastructure and dormitories as well as granting equipment and electricity subsidies.

When asked about the progress of the solar project, Shijing referred to its public statements. In the latest quarterly report in October, the company noted it was proceeding in an orderly manner.



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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Retro Kitchens Are Everywhere—and the Ultimate Rejection of the Sterile Luxury Trend

Playful 1950s style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances

By TRACY KALER
Mon, Apr 22, 2024 6 min

The 1950s spawned society’s view of kitchens as the heart of the home, a hub for gathering, cooking, eating and socializing. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the same decade could inspire today’s luxury kitchens.

“The deliberate playfulness and genius of the era’s designers have enabled the mid-century style to remain a classic design and one that still sparks joy,” said James Yarosh, an interior designer and gallerist in New Jersey.

That playful style spotlights details like coloured cabinets, checkerboard and mosaic tile patterns, vintage lighting, and SMEG appliances—all of which are a conspicuous rejection of the sterile, monochrome kitchens that have defined luxury home design for years. One of the hottest brands to incorporate into retro-style kitchens, SMEG is turning up more these days. But the question is: How do you infuse a colourful refrigerator and other elements from this nostalgic era without creating a kitschy room?

“The key to a modern, fresh look in your kitchen is to reference, not imitate, signature looks of the 1950s,” said New York-based designer Andrew Suvalsky, who often laces retro style throughout the rooms he designs. He said using the period as inspiration will steer you away from imagining a garish space.

“When it comes to incorporating that retro-esque look, it’s a fine dance between looking beautiful and looking kitschy,” added Lisa Gilmore, a designer in Tampa, Florida. Gilmore suggested balancing contemporary pieces with vintage touches. That balance forges a functional yet attractive design that’s easy to live with while evoking a homey atmosphere––and ultimately, a room everyone wants to be in.

Colour Reigns Supreme

Suvalsky said one way to avoid a kitschy appearance is to mingle woods and colours, such as lacquered base cabinets and walnut wall cabinets, as he did in his Montclair, New Jersey, kitchen.

“Mixing colours into your kitchen is most effective when it’s done by colour-blocking––using a single colour across large areas of a space––in this case, zones of cabinetry,” he explained. He tends to lean toward “Easter egg colours,” such as baby chick yellow and pale tangerine. These soft pastels can suggest a starting point for the design while lending that retro vibe. But other hues can spark a vintage feel as well.

A mid-century-inspired kitchen by Blythe Interiors.
Natalia Robert

“Shades of green and blue are a timeless base foundation that work for a 1950s vintage look,” said designer Jennifer Verruto of Blythe Interiors in San Diego. But wood isn’t off the table for her, either. “To embrace the character of a mid-century home, we like a Kodiak stain to enhance the gorgeous walnut grain,” she said. “This mid-tone wood is perfect for contrasting other lighter finishes in the kitchen for a Mid-Century Modern feel.”

Since colour is subjective, a kitchen lined with white cabinetry can assume a retro aesthetic through accoutrements and other materials, emanating that ’50s vibe.

“The fun of retro designs is that you can embrace colour and create something that feels individual to the house and its homeowner, reflecting their tastes and personality,” Yaosh said. He recommended wallpaper as an option to transform a kitchen but suggested marrying the pattern with the bones of the house. “Wallpaper can create a mid-century or retro look with colours and hand-blocked craftsmanship,” he said. “Mauny wallpapers at Zuber are a particular favourite of mine.”

Suvalsky suggested Scalamandre wallpapers, for their 1950s patterns, and grass cloth, a textile that was often used during that decade. He also likes House of Hackney, a brand that “does a great job reinventing vintage prints in luscious colours,” he noted. “Many of their colourways invert the typical relationship between light and dark, with botanical prints in dark jewel tones set over light, more playful colours.”

Materials Matter

Beyond wall covering, flooring, countertops and backsplashes can all contribute to the 1950s theme. Manufactured laminate countertops, specifically Formica, were all the rage during the decade. But today’s high-end kitchens call for more luxurious materials and finishes.

“That’s a situation where going the quartz route is appropriate,” Gilmore said. “There are quartzes that are a through-body colour and simple if someone is doing colorued cabinetry. A simplified white without veining will go a long way.” She also recommended Pompei quartz Sunny Pearl, which has a speckled appearance.

A kitchen designed by James Yarosh that incorporates pops of yellow.
Patricia Burke

But for those who welcome vibrant colour schemes, countertops can make a bold statement in a vintage kitchen. Gilmore said solid surface materials from the era were often a colour, and quartz can replicate the look.

“Some brands have coloured quartz, like red,” she said. But keeping countertops neutral allows you to get creative with the backsplash. “I‘d pull in a terrazzo backsplash or a bold colour like a subway tile in a beautiful shade of green or blush,” Gilmore said. “Make the backsplash a piece of art.”

Suvalsky also leans toward bright and daring––such as checkerboards––for the backsplash. But depending on the kitchen’s design, he’ll go quieter with a double white herringbone [tile] pattern. “Either version works, but it must complement other choices, bold or simple, in the design,” he explained.

Neutral countertops with a bold backsplash, designed by Lisa Gilmore.
Native House Photography

Likewise, his flooring choice almost always draws attention. “My tendency is more toward very bold, such as a heavily veined marble or a pattern with highly contrasting tones,” he noted. Yarosh suggested slate and terrazzo as flooring, as these materials can make an excellent backdrop for layering.

Forge a Statement With Vintage Appliances 

As consequential as a kitchen’s foundation is, so are the appliances and accoutrements. While stainless steel complements contemporary kitchens, homeowners can push the design envelope with companies like SMEG when making appliance selections for a retro-style kitchen. Although Suvalsky has yet to specify a SMEG fridge, he is looking forward to the project when he can.

“I think they work best when the selected colour is referenced in other parts of the kitchen, which helps to integrate these otherwise ‘look at me’ pieces into the broader design,” he noted. “They are like sculptures unto themselves.”

“For our mid-century-inspired projects, we’ve opted for Big Chill and the GE Cafe Series to bring a vintage look,” Verruto added. Similar to SMEG, Big Chill and GE offer a vintage vibe in a wide selection of colours and finishes, alongside 21st-century performance.

Can’t commit to a full-size appliance? Sometimes, a splash is enough. Gilmore tends to dust her retro kitchens with a coloured kettle or toaster since her clients are likelier to add a tinge with a countertop appliance or two. “Mint green accessories make it pop, and if in five years they are over it, it’s not a commitment,” she said. “It’s a great way to infuse fun and colour without taking a major risk.”

Deck out the Breakfast Nook

Kitchen dining areas present the opportunity to introduce retro lighting, furniture, and accessories to complete the look. Flea markets and antique markets are excellent places to hunt for accompaniments.

“Dome pendants and Sputnik chandeliers are iconic styles that will infuse vintage charm into your kitchen while also easily complementing a variety of other styles,” Verruto said.

A retro breakfast nook desinged by Andrew Suvalsky.
DLux Editions

Suspend a vintage light fixture over the classic Saarinen table, and you can’t go wrong.

“Saarinen Tulip Tables are almost always guaranteed to deliver a home run in nearly any interior, especially a 1950s-themed kitchen,” Suvalsky said. “The simplicity of its form, especially in white, makes it nearly impossible to clash with.”

To really channel the vibe of this era, Verruto suggested local vintage stores and brands such as Drexel Heritage and Lexington. Dressing the windows counts, too. “Cafe curtains in a chintz pattern will make for a fabulous finishing touch,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yarosh delights in selecting tabletop items, including novelty stemware and other trappings ubiquitous in the 1950s. “Mid-century kitchens also need to have pedestal cake plates and maybe a cloche to keep a cake,” he mused. “I love the opportunity to curate these details down to the correct fork and serving pieces.”

MOST POPULAR
35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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