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Pricing Squeeze Pushes Silicon Suppliers To New Production Process

Pricing for solar PV polysilicon and wafers will plunge yet again in 2012, warns NPD Solarbuzz, but that may open up a door for a new breed of silicon material.

The pricing woes for suppliers of solar PV starter materials, polysilicon and wafers, are well documented. From several hundred dollars per kilogram a few years ago, pricing has been eviscerated due to overcapacity and overcompetition, now to under $30/kg (and we're hearing of sub-$25/kg now on the spot market). That's dangerously close to, if not outright well below, manufacturing costs for many suppliers. As a result, many have been taking capacity offline to try and stem capacity and thus prop up and even increase pricing again.

Unfortunately that climate isn't changing any time soon, warns NPD Solarbuzz, and thus "less competitive" manufacturers will continue to idle or shut down factories. (Just last week REC closed another multi-hundred-megawatt silicon plant in Norway, on top of several site closures last fall.) The net effect will be an industrywide decline in utilization rates in 2012, from 76 percent to 66 percent for polysilicon output, and 64 percent to 57 percent for wafers.

Industry revenues for solar PV polysilicon and wafers. (Source: NPD Solarbuzz)

Amidst the pricing pressure, though, is a ray of light for some polysilicon producers: "cast-mono" silicon, a hybrid of mono- and multicristalline ingots grown in conventional multicrystalline DS casting furnaces, a lower-cost method than the traditional Czochralski-grown (Cz) mono-Si ingots. Some of the more vertically integrated module makers — particularly those in China — started producing cast-mono wafers and modules last year, and Solarbuzz sees their output growing to 2.4 gigawatts (GW), about 8 percent of total PV wafer production, and rising to 25 percent of all wafer production by 2016.

Making these hybrid cast-mono products is not without its challenges, from addressing a wide range of conversion efficiency requirements to fixing its nonuniform appearance. Nonetheless, silicon suppliers "are very optimistic about cast-mono," seeing it as "a low-cost approach with relatively low technical barriers to achieving this goal," says Charles Annis, VP at NPD Solarbuzz. And this year, "we will see how the end market receives a strong supplier push of cast-mono," he adds.


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Hypocrisy? While Buffett Champions Renewables, His Company Fights Rooftop Solar

Mark Chediak, Noah Buhayar and Margaret Newkirk, Bloomberg Warren Buffett highlights how his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. utilities make massive investments in renewable energy. Meanwhile, in Nevada, the company is fighting a plan that would encourage more residents to use green power.
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Born from Disaster: Japan Establishes First Microgrid Community

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Clean Energy ETFs Are on a Tear

Eric Balchunas, Bloomberg Green investing used to be synonymous with losing money. But while the S&P 500 Index is up 2 percent this year, and the MSCI All-Country World Index is up 5 percent, clean energy ETFs have double-digit re...

Wheels, Towers and Trees: Unconventional Renewable Energy Technologies in the Pipeline

Andrew Williams, International Correspondent A number of companies around the world are developing novel technologies in an effort to grab a slice of the global renewable energy market.  Although many of these technologies are simple incremental improvements to e...
Jim is Contributing Editor for, covering the solar and wind beats. He previously was associate editor for Solid State Technology and Photovoltaics World, and has covered semiconductor manufacturing and related industries, ...


Volume 18, Issue 3


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