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Top-10 solar cell suppliers in 2009: iSuppli

September 6, 2009 11 comments

Friends, I recently received this list from iSuppli and hope to be speaking with the company in more detail. In the meantime, the study is reproduced here for the benefit of readers. May I also thank iSuppli and Jon Cassell.

First Solar to produce twice as much as leading crystalline solar module suppliers

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Leveraging its low-cost thin-film process, US-based First Solar Inc. is set to surpass its crystalline competitors to become the world’s largest producer of photovoltaic (PV) cells in 2009, according to iSuppli Corp.

First Solar in 2009 is set to produce 1,100 Megawatts (MW) worth of solar cells, more than double the 503MW it made in 2008. This will give First Solar nearly twice as much production of total solar cells as its nearest competitor, Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. As iSuppli noted in an Aug. 10 release, SunTech in 2009 is set to become the leader of the crystalline segment, which is a subset of the total solar cell market.

“First Solar is leveraging its cost leadership to achieve market-share leadership in the global PV solar cell business,” said Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for iSuppli. “The company’s proprietary thin-film process is giving it an edge over the competition amid challenging solar market conditions.”

The figure presents iSuppli’s forecasted worldwide market share for all types of solar cells in 2009.

iSuppli:Forecast of Top-10 Suppliers of Solar Cells in 2009 (Ranking by Production in Megawatts (MW))

iSuppli:Forecast of Top-10 Suppliers of Solar Cells in 2009 (Ranking by Production in Megawatts (MW))

iSuppli:Forecast of Top-10 Suppliers of Solar Cells in 2009 (Ranking by Production in Megawatts (MW))

Source: iSuppli, USA, Sept. 2009

“First Solar sells its products at very competitive prices, always undercutting crystalline cells,” Wicht said. “With its capability to produce cells at a cost of 89 cents per watt in the second quarter, First Solar is generating stable operating margins, while its competitors are struggling to stay profitable. Despite global oversupply of PV modules, First Solar is continuing to expand and is able to sell nearly all of its finished goods.”

Beyond low-cost production, First Solar’s success is also being driven by its well-established sales channels in Europe and its own installations for US utility projects.

First Solar will be the only company among the Top-4 solar cell suppliers able to gain market share in 2009, iSuppli predicts. The company’s portion of global solar cell MW production will rise to 12.8 percent in 2009, up from 7.5 percent in 2008. No.-2 SunTech, No.-3 Sharp and No.-4 Q-Cells — all will suffer contractions in total solar cell market share.

First Solar also holds the lowest levels of inventory in the global solar cell industry. Because of this, iSuppli expects the company to actually sell all of its production in 2009, rather than stockpiling it. With inventories throughout the PV supply chain soaring, this give First Solar a significant competitive advantage.

With 3.92GW worth of solar capacity set to be installed in 2009, First Solar’s cells will account for as much as 28 percent of the total, according to iSuppli. The company’s share will be even higher in ground installations and large rooftops, where its products find the strongest acceptance. Its share will be lower in other types of installations, such as small rooftops.

Thin-film represents a new generation of solar cell technology that is gaining acceptance worldwide. Traditional solar cells have employed crystalline material, which is relatively efficient at converting light into electricity, but also more expensive relative to thin-film. In addition to SunTech, crystalline solar-cell suppliers include Q-Cells, Sharp, Yingli and JA Solar.

In contrast, thin-film employs slim layers of materials including cadmium, tellurium, copper, amorphous, and microcrystalline silicon.

Because of its cost advantage, thin film will grow to account for 34.5 percent of worldwide solar production in terms of MW in 2013, up from 14.2 percent in 2008.

Despite the strong rise of thin-films, iSuppli doesn’t believe that the technology will surpass crystalline in the foreseeable future.

“The rise of thin-film is due to the success of First Solar and its unique thin film process,” Wicht said. “There’s no new First Solar yet on the horizon. With only one supplier, thin film’s progress will be limited.”

First Solar employs a patented process using cadmium telluride (CdTe).

I certainly hope to get into a further discussion with Dr. Henning Wicht on this list, and with him and Stefan de Haan on the top 10/20 thin film module producers, as well as crystalline cell manufacturers. Stay tuned, folks!

EL SEGUNDO, USA: Leveraging its low-cost thin-film process, US-based First Solar Inc. is set to surpass its crystalline competitors to become the world’s largest producer of photovoltaic (PV) cells in 2009, according to iSuppli Corp.
First Solar in 2009 is set to produce 1,100 Megawatts (MW) worth of solar cells, more than double the 503MW it made in 2008. This will give First Solar nearly twice as much production of total solar cells as its nearest competitor, Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. As iSuppli noted in an Aug. 10 release, SunTech in 2009 is set to become the leader of the crystalline segment, which is a subset of the total solar cell market.
“First Solar is leveraging its cost leadership to achieve market-share leadership in the global PV solar cell business,” said Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for iSuppli. “The company’s proprietary thin-film process is giving it an edge over the competition amid challenging solar market conditions.”
The figure presents iSuppli’s forecasted worldwide market share for all types of solar cells in 2009.
iSuppli:Forecast of Top-10 Suppliers of Solar Cells in 2009 (Ranking by Production in Megawatts (MW))

Dramatic price forecast to reshape PV industry: iSuppli

January 16, 2009 Comments off

I was very fortunate to attend a webinar on solar PV a couple of days back, thanks to iSuppli, USA. The webinar looked at:

* Polysilicon — what is going on in the market?
* Cells and modules — where will the prices go?

Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst, iSuppli, made it clear that the intention was to show what’s coming out of primary industry research.

He said: “We believe that solar is a fantastic market. It has been growing over the last four years by revenue. It will continue to grow! There are not many industries with a growth path like that! However, in last the 18 months, the supply has been disconnected from demand.”

This is exactly the point iSuppli addressed in its webinar. Dr. Wicht was accompanied by Stefan de Haan, senior analyst, photovoltaics, iSuppli.

iSuppli’s recent findings are:
* Severe supply chain imbalances exist at polysilicon/wafer and cell/module levels.
* Short term polysilicon and module prices will decrease significantly.

Polysilicon: What’s going on with supply and pricing?
If you looked at the global solar PV industry, many plants are under construction, and there are huge capacity expansion plans. There has been a dramatic decrease in production. In 2008, iSuppli estimated total production of solar PV at 60,000 metric tons. In 2009, about 100,000 metric tons will be produced!

What are the reasons for this supply situation? In 2005-06, the high margins of this industry attracted several newcomers. The cycle time to ramp up a polysilicon plant is 24-36 months, and including another 12 months to get finance, it takes about four years.

He said: “The decisions taken in year 2005-06 are coming to the market now. This is also why we see the big ramp in 2009-10. This is also the reason why the industry will have big difficulties to react on a short term notice. The polysilicon industry is a big super tanker, which has difficulties to maneuver on short term.”

Looking at the demand side of things, iSuppli showed a graph where the two curves — polysilicon supply and polysilicon demand meet, or rather cross, in early 2010. From that point on, the supply line passes the demand line. “That means, from that time onward, we definitely see prices for polysilicon decreasing,” he said.

What will happen in 2009?
The key point to note is that the ramping rates of polysilicon and solar cells are completely different! The ramping rate of polysilicon is much steeper, than on the cell side. Polysilicon is more than doubling, while the cell industry is growing at 34 percent.

According to Dr. Wicht, the gap between demand and supply is already shrinking fast in 2009, which will lead to a price decrease in 2009.

Coming to prices, the polysilicon market boasts two kinds of prices — long term and spot market. According to Dr. Wicht, the long term prices are already decreasing from around $100/kg in 2008, and it is expected to be around $80/kg in 2009.

On the other hand, the spot market price peaked in 2008 at around $400/kg. Now, it has already dropped. It will continue to drop, far beyond today’s long term contract price, which will then, from 2010 onward, make up another round of discussion. This is because companies might tend to get out of their long term contracts to secure their silicon on the spot!

Summarizing, he said that polysilicon production will increase heavily. Next, supply will pass demand from 2010 onward, and then the industry will enter the oversupply situation for the next three to four years. The polysilicon industry will also react. In fact, iSuppli anticipates a recent announcement from a solar PV company to expand production capacity would be the last for quite a while!

What about projects on the way? These projects have to come on to the market and many of those will! This is precisely the reason why the industry will see silicon passing solar cells in capacity over the next few years.

Stefan de Haan added that the output of the PV modules industry will grow. The total module prod will likely grow to 11GW this year and to 20GW in 2012. Thin film modules will continuously gain market share and it probably account for 1/3rd of the total market by 2012. Production of crystalline cells will run in parallel. It is likely to reach 9GW for 2009 and 18GW for 2012.

Commenting on the competitive landscape, he added that many new players would be entering production in 2009, especially in the thin film business. “However, the current leaders — QCells, Suntech and First Solar — will increase their edge over the competition in terms of absolute production volumes,” he said.

In general, it is a good thing that the industry is growing and that all of this capacity is coming online. However, this raises the question: can demand can keep up with the supply?

According to iSuppli, in 2009, the installation market will be flattening. In the sense, iSuppli projects that 4.2GW will be installed this year, or about 10 percent growth. However, this growth is much smaller in comparison to the previous years. Some of the reasons for slower growth in 2009 include changes in sustained feed-in tariffs and the global economic slowdown.

Hann added, “In H2-2010, module demand will probably return to the previous growth rates, of more than 20 percent per year.”

Combining demand and supply, there is a massive oversupply of modules that has already been building up since early 2008. Back in 2008, this did not impact on the module prices as there was short term heavy demand from countries like Germany and Spain, from project developers and installation companies, etc. So, this was not noticeable earlier. However, in 2009, the oversupply situation is quite serious!

As a consequence, many suppliers will not be able to react to this situation in the short term. They will still need to run their factories to try and generate some revenue and satisfy the industry. Many had bet on some strong demand coming from USA and also China.

This year, the module prices will decline. Consequently, the declining prices will also create some additional demand. However, for the next two years, this fundamental oversupply situation will not change.

How far will prices drop?
So, what are the message for 2009? First, crystalline module prices will drop to about $2.50 per watt, and second, cost is going to be the differentiating factor! This was a point emphasized strongly by the iSuppli analysts.

Further, how should companies manage this situation, where supply is disconnected by demand? According to Dr. Wicht, there is 11.1GW of module supply vs. 4.2GW of installations. “We do not see that the demand is elastic and that everything will be good after the end of 2009. The gap is too large between demand and supply, and will last till end of 2010.”

Installation capacity will surely become a bottleneck. There will be falling prices for silicon, as well as solar cells and modules. Also, the demand is not that elastic enough to absorb all modules produced.

Therefore, given this situation, what are the options for success, rather, what are the ideas to re-orient the solar PV business?

The first option could be to shut down 50 percent of production till price recovers. However, this is not a realistic option. Another could be to put expansion plans on hold. Yet another option for producers would be to become the best in class in production cost, an option, which is excellent, but difficult!

Probably, the best option would be for makers to integrate downstream. This includes new demand simulation in established markets as well as developing new markets.

Dr. Wicht said: “Anticipating bottlenecks are key for solar. The next bottlenecks are the bureaucracy and installation capacity. The production capacity would not be influential. Production cost and downstream integration are key.” He advised solar PV producers to monitor their PV market demand and supply situation regularly.

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