China’s TBEA: Unwilling to Miss Any Opportunity

TBEA Xinjiang Sunoasis Company Limited (TBEA) is a firm with a difference, as far as India goes. The firm, which operates as TBEA Xi’an Electric Technology Limited in India, does many things differently, something that has worked for the firm in India.

But first, the numbers. In India, the firm has an installed base exceeding 3 GW for its inverter range, accounting for a significant share of its global portfolio of over 30 GW, spread over 20 countries. TBEA is also one of the few international suppliers, which opted to set up a 1 GW plant in India, with its inverter plant near Bengaluru going operational in November last year. In fact, the Indian plant remains the only plant outside China for the firm till date. The firm hopes to expand capacity to 2 GW in due course.

So what does TBEA do differently? For one, unlike many peers, the firm has chosen to go horizontal in the renewable or solar chain, wearing the hat of a developer, financier, EPC firm, leading inverter supplier, STATCOM, HVDC solutions, EMS and energy storage systems. A portfolio of offerings that seek to ensure that knowledge gained in every country it enters, is never wasted for want of a product. For a firm that will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, that’s a lot of ambition.

The global outlook did not come suddenly to the firm. TBEA has manufacturing facilities across China and in India, besides its R&D centre in Munich.

Weiling Ma, General Manager Asia Pacific at TBEA Xi’an Electric Technology Limited  believes the Indian expansion makes great sense. “India has increased its own renewable targets significantly. Also, when we consider the whole South Asia, South East Asia region, India is the biggest market. It is easier to find a quality technical team in India. We also learn a lot, as in India market, they have very strict requirements about the technology. With local support, local after sales, local technical, local manufacture, we can service that region from there,other than some key parts from China.The increasing cost of labor in China also strengthened the case for manufacturing in India.

Bofeng Xu

Bofeng Xu

Weiling Ma

Weiling Ma

And apart from this, then we have a down Australia in Adelaide and Brisbane. We have a supported with our own SVG and satcom system for this project products. For the Latin America like Chile, we also done EPC there, and our inverter there too. For the whole market strategy here, our base is still in India. And then the second one is Europe, and Australia.”

TBEA’s move to look outside China is not surprising, considering how competitive the China market is. While many firms have taken comfort in the large size China has offered, many other firms have chosen to look outside for better margins.

Bofeng Xu,  TBEA  Sunoasis CO., LTD, Vice General Manager, explains.

“For the international market, we have four groups. The first is the Asia Pacific which is mainly for India and Vietnam. The second is the European team. European team is based in Spain, but they are covering Portugal, Spain, Bulgaria , even in Ukraine we have project there. The third part is the Middle East and Africa. Now we have a done project in Saudi Arabia and also in Dubai.

And we actually  take India as a separate group. We have a team special for India here. That’s why I called this is a fourth group.”

By September 2019, China had about 190 GW of PV energy generation installed. Even in 2020, the market is expected to add close to 30-36 GW of PV capacity, going up to 40 GW plus for the next few years.

TBEA claims to manufacture 10GW of central inverters and string inverters in a year. The firm has focused on special niches, like off grid supplies too. Offerings perfected through its work in rural and far flung areas of China. Which it now hopes to take to global markets with similar challenges, from Africa to the Middle East and more.

The firm is no bit player in the EPC business, earning a strong reputation as a tier 1 player for multiple years now. With an installed portfolio of over 16 GW of projects, comprising 11GW of PV and 5 GW of wind, it has used its manufacturing background to win multiple auctions in China with low cost bids. Bofeng Xu, places the logic in perspective ” We have a two main parts. The first is EPC and investment. This is actually the same team they do EPC and they invest they do financing. Out in the market. you cannot only do EPC. You need to provide the investment and financing. This is how you survive in the market right now. So actually they are the same team.

The second part is the product part. Two teams combine together. We target in the whole further including wind, including PV, including the projects. In Australia, right now we are targeting investment ,EPC  and products.  We have teams based in Sydney and Adelaide(For Australia).”

But it didn’t stop with EPC work.  In 2014, the firm moved into HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current), a technology particularly relevant for offshore wind power today. In 2017 it completed its  first ever 800kV/5GW converter. Vice-chief engineer Peng Bai, who heads the HVDC business, sees big opportunity in Australia, besides other emerging opportunities.  “I think most people underestimate investment for HVDC,” says Bai. Currently, he claims that TBEA offers power lifting for upto a distance of 70 Kms offshore. Beyond that, costs become prohibitively high to be viable.

Another offering, flowing from its EPC presence, is O&M ( operations and maintenance) platform TB-eCloud. With SCADA and remote monitoring, the TB-ecloud already manages 5 GW capacity of plants, including some in Pakistan, made under the belt and road initiative.

For the relentlessly aggressive TBEA group, risk taking has not come easy, considering the intense competition it faces in each of its diversifications.  But as the decision to provide financing, or move into HVDC shows, this is one firm with an unusual amount  of self belief, and risk taking appetite. With its HO located close to the famed Terracota  Warriors of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, the firm lacks no inspiration for thinking big, and going for it!

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International