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Top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies

October 14, 2008

Alright folks! This has taken some time coming, but it is worth the wait! Presenting the Top 20 solar photovoltaic companies during Q1-2008. May I add here that I am extremely grateful to iSuppli’s Jon Cassell for giving me this opportunity.

I was also fortunate enough to discuss this table with Dr. Henning Wicht, Senior Director, Principal Analyst, iSuppli Deutschland GmbH, in Munich, Germany.

Parameters for rankings
First up, what were the parameters used by iSuppli to determine the top 20? According to Dr. Wicht, the top 20 cell-companies have been ranked by production in 2007 and by announced production capacity 2010. He clarified, “Ranking by revenue is not applicable because many integrated manufactures publish compound revenues for cells, modules and systems.”

Yes, there have been several announcements in the solar/PV space, in India, and globally, and some names could be missing here. However, the new cell manufacturing projects will be included as soon as they are announced.

Coming back to the topic, it is necessary to examine the role of subsidies. While photovoltaics have been getting cheaper, Dr. Wicht said that subsidies were still necessary to support the PV markets. “It shows that the time grid parity shortens faster than expected earlier. As an example, for Germany, the grid parity might be achieved in 2015, which is two years earlier than expected in 2007.”

That is to say, the support programs are benefical, both to support markets to become independent sustainable and to develop the regional industry.

Global interest in solar/PV
Critically, there seems to have developed a sudden interest in solar/PV, starting late 2007, when this (solar) has been around for some time. How has this happened?

According to Dr. Wicht, raising CO2 levels generated through fossil energy, CO2 certificates, rising prices of fossil fuels, political dependency from oil exporting countries drove the Kyoto protocol to reduce CO2.

“Renewable energy is a major pillar to achieve that goal. European governments have been frontrunners to implement and execute that goal. That said, solar has been around for a while. Japan was the first significant market. However, on a global basis, it took off in Europe from 2005 onward,” he noted.

With the spate of initiatives in solar/PV, can it not turn out to be a case of too many folks entering the same line?

Sure, over and undersupply happens along the supply chain! The iSuppli market research figures out imbalances, which drive prices/margins up and down.

Also, isn’t there a chance of solar/PV getting commoditized, or has it already become one? Well, PV modules are a commodity product, said the analyst. The market is still in its infancy and it will continue to grow for the next 10 years and further. The overall saturation will come, but still some years to go.

Is solar helping semicon?
Some industry folks have been saying that the solar/PV initiatives are not really helping the overall semicon industry, a statement I agree with as well. Also, it may only be benefitting some of the equipment makers.

Dr. Wicht said: “Indeed, semicon fabs are not able to produce competitively solar cells and the solar need for semiconductor devices is rather low. The semiconductor companies, however diversify into PV, e.g., Qimonda with a new cell production. Intel is investing in several PV companies, LG is investing in Conergy, etc., or supplying devices for power conversion, e.g, National Semiconductor. However, the overall impact on the semicon devices market is rather low!

Solar, semicon on par?
iSuppli made a forecast some time back regarding investments in solar and semiconductors being on par by 2010.

The investments for solar cell production raising up to several hundreds of Mio USD, up to 1 Bio $ per production site. That is coming close to a semiconductor fab. The total capex of semiconductor is still 10 times larger than PV. However, PV is rising much faster.

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