The 24th edition of the EU-China Summit took place in Beijing on 7 December, during which EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met Xi Jinping, China’s president.
The visit to Beijing focused on various issues, from strategic and foreign policy issues to human rights, trade and economy. Both Brussels and Beijing acknowledged the need to “make [the relationship] work” in the context of an increasingly polarised world which affects trade and investment between the world’s largest economic partners.
“Our relationship with China is complex, and we have a responsibility to make it work,” said von der Leyen. “We agreed that it is in our joint interest to have balanced trade relations. And we need to address challenges in a world with increasing geopolitical frictions. We must all work to ensure Russia stops its war of aggression against Ukraine.”
One key area of trade concerns the import of Chinese green technologies. Around 96% of solar panels installed in the EU came from China last year, according to the EU Commission.
One of the main Chinese solar panel manufacturers with major deals in Europe is Longi. In 2023, the company shipped almost 6GW worth of solar panel modules to Europe, with plans to increase that number in 2024, according to Longi’s Vice-President of the Distributed Business Group Jiang Dongyu.
Among the recent deals signed by Longi in the region includes the three-year partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to update the agency’s logistics hub into solarised facilities. A few months earlier, in September, the Chinese renewables giant secured an order of 101MW of solar modules from Polish renewables developer R.Power.
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Jiang told Investment Monitor that Longi has deep marketing insights in Europe. “Basically, we look at all countries that have aggressive plans to reach sustainable goals by 2030 and 2050,” he explained. “That is why we have subsidiaries in Spain, Italy, Poland, England or the Netherlands.”
Chinese solar photovoltaic (PV) modules are cheaper than their European counterparts, meaning the former are in higher demand on the market. In September 2023, a 25% fall in the price of solar panels since January led to a rise in production costs. Many EU solar power manufacturers, unable to sell their products on the market, sent a letter to the European Commission warning that “if no immediate action is taken, [the] situation will render the European ambition to create Open Strategic Autonomy, in key sectors like solar PV, extremely hard to reach.”
Despite this, the economic challenges to step up demand for European solar PV modules remain. In Eastern Europe, where nominal GDP is significantly lower than in the West, big fossil fuels consumers such as Poland – which in 2021, around 48% of its energy mix consisted of hard coal – will need cheaper alternatives to their European peers to reach net zero emission goals by 2050.
“We think Poland has big potential because their power consumption is increasing,” said Jiang. “However, a large portion of Poland’s power consumption is based on fossil fuels. As a manufacturer, the only thing from our side is that we have to provide good quality products at a decent cost. The important thing is to provide our green power solution to support each country’s net zero emission plans.”