There Are Limits to Cheap Solar Manufacturing in China
Jinko Solar Holding Co, a Chinese solar panel manufacturer, faced violent protests over the week as one of its subsidiary factories, Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co. Ltd., allegedly spilled pollutants into a nearby river. The factory's production was temporarily shut down.
The company said that preliminary tests showed pollution was caused due to improper waste storage, which, followed by heavy rains, caused a fluoride spill into nearby streams. The company also said that this incident was unrelated to the May incident, in which the company received fines for elevated levels of fluoride during a single day. Finally, Jinko Solar promised to pay for environmental clean-up and to provide compensation for damage related to the pollution.
Protests in Haining started last week after a mass fish die-out in August. The protests were a result of pent-up frustrations, as locals reacted to being forced into silence in the past. The factory had repeatedly failed pollution tests since April. Protesters overturned vehicles and stormed the factory before being dispersed by the police.
Jinko Solar shares fell as a result. There are doubts as to when the factory will reopen and what conditions the Chinese government will put on the company to reopen.
Pollution from manufacturing is one of China's biggest problems, and the solar industry does not provide an exception, as manufacturing of solar panels utilizes toxic chemicals. After three decades of weakly regulated industrialization, China is seeing a surge in environmental protests. The success of this protest is an exception, as the government is generally quick to silence rural protests such as this.
Jinko Solar is part of a group of low-cost solar manufacturers who have pushed the prices of panels down in the past months, forcing many competitors, such as Evergreen Solar and BP Solar, out of the market. These protests indicate that there might be a limit to how low manufacturing costs can go.