19 November 2010, 15:57 BST
Despite shipments of PV modules set to grow in 2011, rapid price erosion may see a decline in market revenues next year according to new market analysis.
IMS Reserach said analysis of key industry metrics revealed that although megawatt (MW) shipments of modules have grown at an average of 60% over the past 2 years, industry revenues have only grown by only 13%. As the industry prepares to enter a period of softening demand and decreasing prices, suppliers will need to concentrate on growing revenues and profits and not just focus on who's shipping the most MWs.
Module shipments are forecast to grow by over 65% to more than 16 gigawatts (GW) in 2010. However, reductions in incentive schemes in the world's largest PV market, Germany, as well as a correction of the pulled-forward demand seen in 2010, are likely to bring about a slowdown in growth and IMS Research predicts that shipments will increase by less than 20% in 2011.
The slowing of shipment growth, combined with declining prices, means that PV module revenues may in fact decline in 2011, depending on how severe the slowdown is in the first half of the year.
"The PV industry is currently in a period of very high growth, driven by robust demand from almost every area of the market," commented Sam Wilkinson, PV Research Analyst at IMS Research. "However, the industry has a dangerous tendency to only focus on MWs and GWs or capacity and shipments, rather than revenues and margins. Price declines driven by reductions in incentives and increasingly competitive market conditions mean that whilst the module market may continue to increase in terms of volume, the outlook is quite different when measured in terms of revenues."
In fact, 2011 is not the only time that the market has performed in this way. 2009 saw module shipments grow quickly in the second half of the year and overall MW shipments increased by over 50%. However, rapid price declines throughout a large part of the year meant that industry revenues in fact declined. Whilst the PV market may seem on the surface to be a booming market, a closer look at the real bottom line makes PV module market growth look far less impressive.
This moth, leading U.S. solar company FirstSolar (Nasdaq: FSLR) saw its share price drop among green stocks after reporting narrowing margins for five straight quarters. SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWRA) also saw its gross margin shrink, but Chinese manufacturer JinkoSolar (NYSE: JKS) saw an impressive growth in 3Q margin.
Pressure on Thin Film
A separate PV market analysis by Lux Research shows that advances in crystalline silicon technology, and the falling cost of the polysilicon raw material, have increased the pressure on manufacturers of emerging thin-film technologies.
Lux Research said many producers of thin-film solar modules are under the gun to improve margins or face extinction.
The latest report compares incumbent multicrystalline silicon (mc-Si) technology (representing roughly 80% of the crystalline silicon market) on a $/W basis against three challengers: thin-film silicon (TF-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS). T
he report surveys process changes and cost reduction efforts that module developers have undertaken, and forecasts which technology will gain a long-term cost advantage at the module level.
"Crystalline silicon is dominant by volume and remains the cost/price benchmark for solar modules. Cadmium telluride is limited in efficiencies, but is the absolute leader in cost. We project these two technologies will continue to be highly profitable," said Ted Sullivan, a senior analyst for Lux Research, and the report's lead author. "The profitability of thin-film silicon is much dicier, but CIGS is positioned to outplace crystalline silicon in profitability by 2013 as leading developers improve process stability."
To forecast how module developers would reduce the key components of cost--capital, materials, utilities, and labor--Lux Research built detailed cost-of-goods-sold (COGS) models for the four key technologies--mc-Si, TF-Si, CdTe and CIGS--through 2015, including both glass and flexible substrates for CIGS.
Among the report's key observations: