Clean Power

Published on May 11th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Solar Module Manufacturing Trends In 2012

May 11th, 2013 by  

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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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • The trend is likely to be downwards now as government subsidies are reduced and this will force both volumes and prices down.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Probably not.

      Renewables have reached a price point at which they are competing against fossil fuels even without subsidies.

      Right now solar can be installed in the sunny parts of the US and a utility company can lock in a long term (20+) year price for electricity which is cheaper than purchasing electricity from gas peaker plants.

      And if that utility uses merit order pricing there are tremendous cost savings. If the utility has to pay the peaker plant 35 cents per kWh then all suppliers (nuclear, coal, wind, etc.) get paid 35 cents for that time block. Having an adequate amount of 10 cent solar locks in the ceiling at 10 cents.

      Wind is now about the same price as electricity from natural gas combined cycle plants. And that price is locked for a couple of decades. As gas prices rise the cost of electricity from NGCC plants will rise. Wind will stay where it started.

      And wind also helps hold down the merit order price ceiling.

      Additionally, installed rooftop solar is now cheaper than retail electricity prices in many parts of the country.

  • James Wimberley

    The huge gap (3.7 GW) between module and cell totals tells us that there is something wrong with the numbers. Normally there should be either balance, or a slight excess of cells over modules. It’s more likely that companies are concealing excess cell inventories than exaggerating module production.

    • I was wondering about that and it kind of puts all the numbers into question. Or at least says all the numbers are off by 10%-20%. But the basic trend data is still good. Big growth 2007-2011, then flat or drop in 2012. What we need is demand side stimulation. In the US getting permitting of small system to be like our friends down under. And maybe a national repeal of HOA bans on PV that meet the no-permit standard. Ok one year to get 70% opt in to a ban in your HOA, most are left over from the 1970s 1980s. And since most HOA never get enough people present to vote on changing by-laws, they are never changed.

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