* Solar industry is at a tipping point
* Real competition is from dirtier forms of fuel, not China
* New "Panda" technology, increases efficiency
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, March 20 (Reuters) - Any trade war with China over cheap solar panels could destroy jobs in Europe and limit the industry’s ability to compete with rival, less environmental forms of energy, a European executive of China’s Yingli Green Energy Co Ltd (YGE.N) said.
Darren Thompson, managing director of Yingli Energy Europe, said the real competition for solar was from other energy sources and Chinese companies had a major role in helping the sector compete.
"Our industry is at a tipping point, becoming truly cost-competitive in the race against carbon-intensive energy sources," Thompson said in an interview.
"Imposing protectionist measures now would not only jeopardise our development, it would also harm consumers and more importantly, potentially threaten the jobs of the 300,000 people working in the solar industry across Europe today."
His comments came as President Barack Obama's administration was expected on Tuesday to announced measures after a coalition of manufacturers asked for duties exceeding 100 percent on Chinese-made solar cells. [ID:nL3E8EJ3JO]
In Europe, a spokesman for the EU's executive Commission said he could not comment on whether the EU was considering any steps in response to Chinese competition.
The EU, together with the United States and Japan, has challenged China's restrictions on exports of rare-earth metals, used in applications such as wind and solar energy systems.
Thompson said Yingli was driving innovation and efficiency to accelerate the shift towards a lower-carbon energy mix through its "Panda programme", which enables more power to be generated per unit of roof area.
Jobs in the industry are not only in the manufacture of solar panels, but also in maintenance, installation and sales and marketing, he noted, arguing that for every solar panel installed in Europe, even if made in China, "no less than 70 percent of the value-creation remains local."
Some in the solar industry have blamed competition from cheap Chinese solar panels for company bankruptcies, with U.S. manufacturers accusing China of unfairly subsidising panels which are then "dumped", or sold below cost price.
Thompson said Chinese companies did not get unfair advantages.
"The truth is that the entire solar industry worldwide benefited from some sort of significant public support driven by the policy goal of promoting renewable energy," he said.
"When it comes to our access to financing, our conditions are no different from any of our European competitors and we are getting financial loans from banks at commercial market rates, which are by no means lower than in Europe."
Headquartered in China but listed on the New York Stock Exchange, he said Yingli was fully transparent and met "the highest standard of fair international trade practices".
(Editing by David Holmes)
((Barbara.hm.Lewis@thomsonreuters.com)(+32 2 287 68 43)) Keywords: SOLAR YINGLI/
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