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Prices for polysilicon--the basic material used to make solar photovoltaic cells--have dropped precipitously in recent years and that trend looks set to continue as big Asian suppliers pursue a cutthroat, low cost-high volume strategy that Chinese solar panel manufacturers, and other export-driven Asian economies, have used successfully for decades.

Clean Power

Solar Silicon Prices to Continue Falling as Asian Bigs Ramp Up Capacity in Bid to Gain Market Share

Prices for polysilicon–the basic material used to make solar photovoltaic cells–have dropped precipitously in recent years and that trend looks set to continue as big Asian suppliers pursue a cutthroat, low cost-high volume strategy that Chinese solar panel manufacturers, and other export-driven Asian economies, have used successfully for decades.

Polysilicon supply looks set to continue growing at a fast clip, as Asia’s largest producers of polysilicon — the basic material used in making solar photovoltaic cells — appear intent on pursuing a cutthroat strategy of gaining market share by flooding the market with supply. It’s a strategy that Chinese solar panel makers have used to capture more than half the growing, worldwide market for solar panels, a Bloomberg news report notes.

Global demand for polysilicon is growing, but at less than 1/3 the rate the two Asian producers plan to expand, according to the report. At $53.40 a kilogram, solar-grade polysilicon prices fell to their lowest level in more than six years in June from $78.90 in March. Prices were as high as $450 a kilogram as recently as mid-2008, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which forecasts that Chinese producers will capture around 42% of market demand this year, 3% more than 2010.

China’s GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. and South Korea’s OCI are carrying out plans to almost double their combined capacity to 88,000 metric tons, according to the Bloomberg report, putting pressure on US-based market leader Hemlock Semiconductor and Germany’s Wacker Chemie AG.

Asian polysilicon suppliers have advantages over producers in the US and EU, including access to more and cheaper land, and more in the way of government support and incentives, market analysts say.

Meanwhile, Hemlock and Wacker-Chemie are selling all the polysilicon they can produce, according to company spokespeople, and both have their own expansion plans in the works.

Hemlock Semiconductor, made up of two joint ventures and majority owned by Dow Corning, announced yesterday that its $1.2 billion plant in Clarksville, Tennessee is on-schedule and due to begin producing polysilicon in late 2012. Hemlock is now looking to hire as many as 500 employees to operate the plant. The company brought a new production facility in Saginaw, Michigan on-line earlier this year.

“Our Hemlock Semiconductor Group joint ventures continues to sell all of its production,” Dow Corning management reported in Q1, contributing to a 17% year-to-year increase in Q1 revenue that follows record-setting revenue and profit for 2010.

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Image courtesy of Hemlock Semiconductor

 
 
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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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