site: HOME > > Economic > News > Economics
PV Majors Graduate to Dying Market
Summary:In 2008, the future of solar power looked bright. Jiangxi Province tried to capitalize with a slew of new policies to encourage the industry, including recruiting 12,000 PV majors. Now, most are graduating with nowhere to go in the struggling field and turning away from PV entirely.

By Li Chunping (
李春平), Sun Xiangfeng (孙翔峰) and Wen Xi (温鈊)
Issue 604, Jan 21, 2013
News, cover
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article: [Chinese]

When looking at the employment chart for photovoltaics (PV) majors, Zhou Lang, dean of Nanchang University’s School of Photovoltaic Engineering, was disheartened to see only five students had actually entered the PV industry.

Last fall a senior Chinese official likened China’s solar industry to “a patient on life support” amid widespread overcapacity and prices that have fallen over 30 percent in the past year. Students who entered the seemingly promising field at the beginning of their college studies are now graduating into a very grim market.

Seven years ago, during the “Great Leap Forward” period of the PV industry, a high executive at the Jiangxi Province-based LDK Solar came to Zhou. “At that time LDK Solar was relatively weak in material analysis testing,” Zhou said. “Their chief technology officer came to us and asked us to provide analysis, testing and technology consulting services.”

LDK Solar cooperated with Nanchang University to establish the LDK research center at the university and pledged to provide scientific research funding every year.

Zhou never imagined that within just a few years, the PV industry would fall off a cliff and cripple their chief sponsor. LDK Solar is now swimming in over $3 billion of debt and is unable to provide basic research funding.

“They’re even struggling to pay wages,” Zhou said.

His students are now having to decide whether they can survive in the PV field.

Competing with Friends

Yue Peng, who will soon graduate from the school, hopes he can enter a PV company with a basic salary of 3,000 yuan per month and make 8,000 after three to five years. But he still doesn’t have a job, despite sending out countless applications and doing several interviews during recruitment season.

“At campus recruitment there are few positions available for students graduating with a PV major,” Yue said. “A company from Taizhou (台州) came to our school with only one vacancy, but there were more than a dozen people applying.”

He said that all those who made it to the interview phase were his classmates. Competing fiercely with his good friends has made him feel hopeless. “For seniors who graduated last year, five out of 49 people in the whole class went into the PV industry,” he said. “Now there are 35 people in our class, but still not a single person has found a PV industry job.”

Companies across the industry are hemorrhaging jobs. Jiangxi LDK has laid off 9,000 workers and Wuxi Suntech over 4,000. At the beginning of 2012, Yue and his classmates started confronting the reality that they may have to give up on their major and choose another career.

Some of Yue’s classmates are now doing sales or management, while most have signed contracts with LED and semiconductor companies.

Dashed Dreams

In 2008, sales revenue from Jiangxi Province’s PV industry reached 13 billion yuan and the volume of polycrystalline silicon solar cells produced there accounted for one-fourth of the worldwide total. That year LDK Solar, Jiangxi’s leading enterprise, became the first solar company in the world to reach an annual production capacity of 1 GW.

The Jiangxi provincial government vigorously promoted development of the PV industry through initiatives in fields like education, research and development and personnel training. In 2008, universities in Jiangxi recruited a total of 12,000 people to the PV major.

On Oct 6, 2008 the School of Photovoltaic Engineering at Nanchang University was formally founded. “At that time we were still very enthusiastic to cooperate with LDK Solar,” said Zhou.

The company was at the top of the industry and made an oral agreement with Zhou to provide funds to the school.  But things changed very quickly. “The financial crisis and the anti-dumping rulings [by the U.S.] all happened too quickly,” he said. “We hadn’t signed a formal contract and the PV industry entered winter.”

In 2009, the school started to recruit students, but the LDK logo no longer appeared on the school placard. Yue and his classmates were the first batch of students recruited by the school, and despite this ominous sign, they were unfazed throughout 2009. During the second half of that year, the government launched a series of policies to support the PV industry and it recovered from the 2008 downturn. Most solar companies started to became profitable.

“At that time, when our graduates went into the PV industry, it was very normal that they would earn more than 100,000 yuan annually,” Zhou said.

Hope for the Future

As dean of the first PV school in the country, the pressure Zhou feels isn’t from teaching, but getting his students employed.

“The best age for PV graduates has gone,” he said. “Previously this industry had a low entry standard, high profit and good development opportunity. But it’s down and unlikely to return to where it was in the past.”  

However, Zhou insists that solar energy will still have a good development period in 10 to 20 years. “PV is the energy development trend of the future,” he said. “The energy and environmental crises are leading to the new development of new energy.”

Students are also waiting anxiously for the industry’s “winter” to become spring. “New energy will develop,” said Wang Shiliang, who entered the PV school in 2011. “When we graduate, maybe the industry will have recovered.” 



Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

EO Digital Products

Multimedia & Interactive