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Solar PV Module Rankings in 2012, And What Comes Next

The gap between PV supply and demand narrowed slightly in 2012, but overcapacity will continue to weigh on the industry for the next several years, even with optimistic outlooks, according to new industry analyst reports.

Total PV capacity (run-rate) in 2012 was roughly 36 GW, a slight increase from ~35 GW in 2011, while actual production was just shy of 29 GW and shipments rose about 10 percent to 26 GW, according to SPV Market Research's Paula Mints. (The difference between production and shipments is supply inventory, she notes.) GTM Research's Shyam Mehta calculates 2012 module production was 36 GW, slightly down from 2011. Either way they agree that 2012 was a lot slower than the previous few years.

Yingli led the pack in both groups' estimates of top PV module suppliers, at around 2.4-2.5 GW shipped in 2012. Other individual company rankings in the top 10 differ, but the usual suspects were present and range from 1-2 GW (First Solar, Suntech, Trina, Canadian Solar, JA Solar, Sharp). Collectively, those top 10 suppliers reduced their capacity by 12 percent, but bumped up their capacity utilization a couple of points to 80 percent, Mints notes. And the dominance of Chinese companies continues: China, Taiwan, Japan, and Rest-of-World made up roughly 80 percent of the 25.9 GWp shipped in 2012, Mints says, while GTM says Asia made up 86 percent of global module production.

Production and shipments are one way to measure the performance of solar PV firms. The other is revenues and profits, which by any measure isn't a pretty picture: The top 12 cell and module producers recorded 2012 revenues of about $12.3 billion but collectively lost nearly $3 billion, with not one turning a net profit and only a third managing gross gains, Mints says.

Here's something else they agree on: thin-film PV lost more ground to silicon PV in 2012, totaling 11 percent of technology market share, down from 14 percent in 2011 and far from its peak in 2009. Blame, or credit, c-Si technologies' higher efficiencies and continuously lower pricing. ("Artificially low," Mints adds, calculating a 43 percent plunge in global average selling prices to $0.78/Wp to the first point of sale.)

For 2013, SPV's Paula Mints offers two forecasts for growth: an accelerated one with PV shipments at ~36 GWp and capacity of 43.3 GWp, or more conservatively about 30 GWp shipments and 40.7 GWp capacity. GTM foresees "around 34 GW" for global installations in 2013. In any case there's still a wide gulf between supply and demand.

Lead image: Colored blocks via Shutterstock

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