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Top Ten PV Manufacturers from 2000 to Present: A Pictorial Retrospective

From 2000 (shipments of 252 MWp), through 2013 (estimated shipments of 33.4 GWp), PV industry shipments to the first buyer have grown by a compound annual 46 percent, albeit not always profitably and almost always with slim margins. During this period a cumulative 123.2 GWp was shipped, and most of this shipment was installed.

Compound annual growth for the top ten manufacturers for the 2000-2013 period was 41 percent (again, not always profitably), with cumulative shipments of 73.4 GWp. (Note that this article uses an early estimate for 2013 shipments.)

During the 2000-2013 period the delta between the top ten manufacturers and total shipments has steadily increased.  In 2000 there was a difference of 31.1 MWp (12 percent) between total shipments and that of the top ten manufacturers. In 2012 the difference between total shipments and that of the top ten was 11.4-GWp or 44 percent, indicating that even during the consolidation the supply side of the industry has remained fragmented. During the 2000-2013 period cumulative shipments for manufacturers falling into the other category were 49.8 GWp. 

The makeup of the top ten manufacturers has changed significantly overtime.  Manufacturers regularly on the list in the early 2000s such as BP Solar, Shell Solar, AstroPower and Schott are no longer operating. Several manufacturers flirted with bankruptcy some fell into bankruptcy, and some, notably Suntech, experienced dramatic falls from grace.  Sharp Solar, based in Japan, has the distinction of having the leading shipment share for seven years, from 2001 through 2007.  First Solar made PV industry history by becoming the first thin film manufacturer to top the list in 2009. 

This retrospective has a valuable (and often ignored) lesson — everything changes and those expecting today’s success to remain inviolate are almost certain to be disappointed unless they pay attention to the lessons of the past. Figure 1 depicts PV industry shipment growth alongside that of the annual top ten manufacturers from 2000 through an estimate for 2013. 

Figure 1: PV Industry Shipments and Annual Top Ten Manufacturer Shipments 2000-2013 Estimate

Figure 2 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2000 and 2001.  In 2000, Kyocera (Japan) led the list, edging out BP Solar by a few kilowatts.  In 2001, Sharp Solar took over the number one spot on the list, holding it, as previously noted, until 2008.

Figure 2: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2000 and 2001

Figure 3 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2002 and 2003.  

Figure 3: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2002 and 2003

Figure 4 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2004 and 2005. 

Figure 4: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2004 and 2005

Figure 5 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2006 and 2007. 

Figure 5: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2006 and 2007

Figure 6 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2008 and 2009.  In 2008, Q-Cells took over the leading position on the top ten list.  Q-Cells’ crystalline business is now owned by Hanwha, with Solibro, its CIGS business, owned by Hanergy.  In 2009, First Solar became the first thin film manufacturer to head the top ten list. 

Figure 6: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2008 and 2009

Figure 7 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2010 and 2011.  In 2010 and 2011, Suntech held the leading position on the top ten list.

Figure 7: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2010 and 2011

Figure 8 offers the top ten manufacturer shipment shares for 2012 with an estimate for 2013.  In 2012 Yingli took over the top position on the top ten list and is expected to hold this position in 2013.  

Figure 8: Manufacturer Shipment Shares 2012 and 2013 Estimate

This retrospective offers another lesson, one of resiliency and rebirth. Even now, with PV industry consolidation dragging on and margins remaining constrained up and down the chain from raw material manufacturers through to demand side participants, there is still start up activity.  This activity continues despite naysayers, despite a host of constraints and roadblocks, and despite disappointments along the rocky road to commercialization that all manufacturers face. 

The solar industry continues to innovate because visionaries continue dreaming, founding companies and developing technologies — despite (and maybe a bit because of) the obstacles.  After all, there are not that many industries that offer its participants a chance to change the world.

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