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CNBC Transcript: Steve O'Neil, Chief Executive Officer, REC Solar

Following is the full transcript of CNBC's exclusive interview with Steve O'Neil, CEO of REC Solar. This interview broadcasted in Asia on Friday, 15 September at the 2017 Singapore Summit.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Amanda Drury, Contributor, CNBC.

Amanda Drury (AD): I'm sitting here with the CEO of REC Solar, Steve O'Neil. Now, REC Solar is a Singapore-based solar panel maker and it provides solar solutions for residential, commercial, utility properties – all kinds of things. It has its heritage in Europe but is based here in Singapore and does a lot of business in Asia. So let me get to him right now and ask him a few questions because as you say it's going to be a big topic here at the Singapore Summit. Great to see you today Steve, thanks for coming in.

Steve O'Neil: Thank you Mandy.

AD: You know we've been watching some very harsh repercussions of climate change, haven't we, around the world. And you've also got about a billion people, maybe even more, who don't even have electricity. So you can certainly see why there's greater demand for solar power. Problem is, it's not always sunny. Bust the myths just right off the top for me here. Can you provide consistent and reliable power even when it's not sunny?

Steve O'Neil: Well, with battery storage and in other forms of storage that's certainly possible. And with the interconnection with the grid, that's really not an issue - especially at a very low penetration rates of solar only supplying one or two percent of electricity today. And solar panels are really very reliable. Our panels are guaranteed to last for 25 years, producing energy operating silently, with no moving parts. It's hard to think of a more reliable source of electricity generation

AD: And we certainly saying that that capacity balloon around the world as demand is increasing. I've got some numbers here that world solar power generation capacity has ballooned to about 300 gigawatts from just one gigawatt. Back in the year 2000, we're also hearing many panel makers can't even meet that demand and they've got their order books full all the way into next year. What's the situation at REC?

Steve O'Neil: Our order books are very, very full. We're operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week here and most of our production is right here in a fully integrated factory in Singapore. Also in Norway and yes, we are really producing all the panels we can. In fact, we're going to hit our 30 millionth panels this year, that we'll be producing and shipping to the market. But the business is strong. Solar is growing exponentially, is what I don't think people realize that every two years the installation rates are doubling. And so it's happening around the world now, very quickly.

AD: And China is a massive player in this space isn't it?

Steve O'Neil: The largest market.

AD: The largest market and has been pushing into trying to go… it had in the past, a bit of a reputation for producing not very good quality and cheap solar cells but now they're trying to move up the scale. Is this going to present a big competition to you?

Steve O'Neil: We've always… REC has always been known for our high quality and very good durability and reliability of the products. And that's one of the reasons we manufacture in Singapore with highly automated manufacturing is to always maintain that high quality edge in the market and we're continuing to do so.

AD: You know there's… without getting too much in the weeds for the sake of our viewers but maybe you could put it into layman's terms for us. There's the multi-crystalline cells - and then there's the mono-crystalline cells. The multis have been cheaper. The monos, because of their cost, have been largely used for things like high tech and space products. But you're moving more and more into the mono. Do you think that as you produce more as, China produces more, the cost will come down and the usage is will be much wider?

Steve O'Neil: There's no doubt costs are going to continue to come down. Solar costs are now… around the world, solar energy costs about eight cents a kilowatt hour. That's down 70 per cent since 2010. And those costs are going to continue to come down as we develop the technology. And REC has the world's most powerful multi-crystal and solar panels. And in many ways our multi-crystal panels are outperforming many of mono-crystal and panels on the market today.

AD: What's your outlook for pricing?

Steve O'Neil: And pricing will continue to decline, will continue to decline on a on a regular basis. Because we're continuing to increase our scale and improve our costs.

AD: Here in Singapore, the government does support solar projects through areas such as R&D but it does not subsidize the solar industry. So you are competing here in Singapore against other countries that do provide subsidies. Is that an issue?

Steve O'Neil: Well, we always advocate free, fair and open trade all around the world. And that's the best environment for the development of renewable energy is to have that. And we do get great support from Singapore, especially in R&D, together with the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, SERIS. A lot of our research and development is jointly done with SERIS and universities in Singapore, which is which is a real important competitive advantage for REC.

AD: I think that we should be thanking you for Tiger Beer is that correct? That one of the taglines of Tiger Beer is it has brewed by the sun because you provided the solar panels that go on top of the brewery here in Singapore. So thank you. We can do a cheers after the show. Tell us about some of the other exciting projects that REC is currently involved in or going to be involved in.

Steve O'Neil: One of the newer developing areas that we're really excited about - and we've done several megawatt scale installations – is floating solar. We have floating solar here in Singapore and in Thailand and Japan. Recent installations… which exciting because it protects the water resources on reservoirs and at the same time, you get production off of that land, that surface area that would otherwise not be productive.

AD: And it would be cooler too, wouldn't it?

Steve O'Neil: And cooler is very, very good for a solar panel. The lower the temperature, the better the energy production. So this works very, very well. So this is an exciting area for us.

AD: And so you've been doing testings here in the reservoirs in Singapore?

Steve O'Neil: Yes.

AD: Floating panel?

Steve O'Neil: Yes, here on the reservoir is actually the world's largest test site for floating solar.

AD: And you think this is the future?

Steve O'Neil: I think it's an important part of solar. But solar can be deployed anywhere. It's fully scalable, it's very quick to deploy, you can do it on a rooftop, you can do it on ground, you can do it on water. Just one of the advantages of solar.

AD: It's very interesting. Thank you very much for joining us today.

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