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Chinese Solar PV Module Suppliers Extend Their Lead Heading Into "Robust" 2014

Three industry groups now confirm that Chinese suppliers continue to increase their dominance over solar PV module shipments, and Yingli remains the biggest of them all.

GlobalData is the latest to chime in, calculating that Yingli accounted for nearly 10 percent of the 33 GW of crystalline solar PV modules produced in 2013, itself a 10 percent rise from the prior year reflecting a recovery in global demand. Trina came in second, followed by Sharp, Canadian Solar, and Jinko.

That tally generally agrees with other recent industry analyses for 2013's solar PV shipments. SolarBuzz noted that Yingli and Trina shipped nearly 6 GW of solar PV modules in 2013, and each exceeding 800 MW in the fourth quarter alone, on their way to being the first suppliers to hit the milestone of a gigawatt of shipments per quarter. IHS observes that Yingli and Trina were favored in almost every region except Japan which is well-defended by domestic firms Solar Frontier, Kyocera, and Sharp.

Reflecting those shipment surges by Chinese suppliers is the market's clear preference for them. In a new IHS survey of those who buy solar PV modules buyers — installers, integrators, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms, and distributors — more than 90 percent of them procure from more than one module supplier (though half admit they have a favorite one). Three of the top five overall brands they choose are Chinese, and in terms of pricing all top five are Chinese. However, module pricing isn't the most important factor to them; it's module reliability and quality, and even high efficiency, that same survey finds. Likely this reflects a more holistic view of solar project economics, where all those factors blend together to keep the overall cost low, rather than focusing simply on which module can be procured for the cheapest price.

SolarBuzz and IHS analysts both see "robust" growth in 2014, probably in double-digits, as momentum carries over from late 2013 which will drive new capacity expansions and efforts to improve efficiency. Riding that wave, more than half of the top 20 module suppliers have dropped their blended costs below $0.60/watt, well below their average selling prices of $0.72/watt which were relatively flat through the past year, according to SolarBuzz. As a result, gross margins have improved from 10 percent in mid-2013 to 15 percent, compared to a paltry 1 percent in mid-2012. Still, most PV module suppliers "have a lot of work to do in terms of cost restructuring and improving overall operational efficiency" to push into positive profitability overall, noted Sameer Joshi, GlobalData's director of research and analysis for power and alternative energy.

Lead image: Shanghai Bund skyline landmark, via Shutterstock

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