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Solar Module Manufacturing Trends In 2012

GTM Research recently collected, compiled, and estimated solar PV manufacturing numbers for PVNews’ 29th annual PV production data collection effort, with data from RTS Corporation supplemented for the Japanese producers. One of the most striking (though expected) trends was that year-over-year solar module production stopped growing in leaps and bounds. In fact, production shrunk a little bit.

“Overall, GTM Research estimates that 2012 global cell and module production totaled 32.2 gigawatts and 35.9 gigawatts, respectively, a 2 percent decline from 2011 levels,” Shyam Mehta writes. “The contrast between 2012 and the preceding five years could not be any sharper: from 2006 to 2011, cell production grew at a compounded annualized rate of 68 percent.”

Here’s the visual:


Image Credit: GTM Research

Key factors that led to this included:

Naturally, most solar cells and modules were produced in Asia, especially China.

  • 86% of global solar module production occurred in Asia in 2012;
  • 95% of global solar cell production occurred in Asia in 2012;
  • 64% of global solar module production occurred in China in 2012;
  • 63% of global solar cell production occurred in China in 2012;

Similar to lists from Solarbuzz and IHS reports, GTM Research’s top solar manufacturer list was dominated by Chinese or China-based companies. Yingli Green Energy, Suntech, Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, JA Solar, Jinko Solar, and Hareon Solar were all in the top 10.

Here’s GTM Research’s top 15 listing:


Image Credit: GTM Research

“In total, the top 15 cell and module firms produced 55 percent and 50 percent of the 2012 total respectively, compared to 50 percent and 47 percent in 2011. This suggests that slowly but surely, market share in the industry is beginning to consolidate, and we expect this process to accelerate in 2013 and 2014,” Mehta adds. “Eight firms produced over 1 GW of cells in 2012 compared to only one in 2009, reflecting that the age of the gigawatt fab is well and truly underway.”

Interestingly, First Solar (the only thin-film manufacturer on the list, and one of only two US-based companies) was #2 on Solarbuzz and IHS’s lists but #3 on GTM Research’s. Also, GTM Research made special note of thin film’s sliding share of the market.

Crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology made up 89 percent of module production, compared to 86 percent in 2011. This means thin film, after years of steady increases, has lost production share for three years in a row, falling from 21 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2012, which is similar to 2007 levels. While overall c-Si module production remained essentially flat at around 31.3 gigawatts, thin film output was down by 18 percent from 2011. This reflects the challenges faced by thin film given the steep cost reductions and efficiency improvements experienced by c-Si in 2011 and 2012. Going forward, we expect thin film share to erode further, with a number of market exits expected from smaller and mid-size firms over the course of 2013.


Image Credit: GTM Research

Interestingly, First Solar recently inched into the conventional PV market. However, that’s no indication it’s dropping its thin-film domination. And as I’ve noted previously, there’s huge potential for efficiency improvements in thin-film solar modules that could see it rise again, as well as unique developments and applications.

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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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