A new report released by GTM Research is forecasting that between now and the year 2015 approximately 180 PV module manufacturers across the globe will close operations or succumb to acquisition. The report, titled "Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor," analyzed over 300 PV module manufacturers in the United States, Europe, and Asia. According to the report, the current downturn in the worldwide PV manufacturing segment is likely to last until 2014.
Citing a huge imbalance in supply versus demand as one of the principal reasons for the downturn, the report identifies a simultaneous conversion of “overly aggressive capacity buildup in 2010 and 2011” and reduced subsidies in feed-in tariff markets as two of the major driving forces. This has led to a scenario where manufacturers with a surplus of PV modules are now seeing gross profit margins plummeting to single digits.
According to the report, 88 of the 180 PV module manufacturers predicted to either sell out or close up shop currently exist in the United States, Canada, and Europe where manufacturing costs are highest — around 80 cents per watt, in contrast to China where the same costs 58 to 68 cents. Yet according to the GTM report, that difference in manufacturing cost won’t be enough to save 54 Chinese PV module manufacturers from also folding under the weight of the international slowdown.
According to Shyam Mehta, senior analyst for GTM Research, China is the biggest “black box” factor in the report’s findings. He says that continued propping up by the Chinese government of non-competitive solar manufacturers (called “solar zombies” in the report) is one of the chief reasons why the market may not pick up again for the next two to three years.
“The reason this oversupply has really persisted for so long,” Mehta says, “is that we haven’t seen any capacity rationalization happen in China, which is where most of the capacity is. The Chinese manufacturers have been propped up by domestic, provincial, and municipal lenders. Even companies that would otherwise already be bankrupt haven’t been allowed to fail, because of the employment factor.”
Currently, 60 percent of global module capacity is owned by “pure-play” Chinese solar companies. According to the GTM report, the vast majority of these companies are at risk of going under without continued support from the Chinese government — Suntech being a recent example, and is predicted to need additional government assistance to avoid default on a $575 million loan in March. This is something that Mehta views as applying a band-aid to a hemorrhaging wound.
“What needs to happen is that these companies need to be allowed to fail. That would go a long way towards bringing things more in balance,” Mehta says. “By the end of next year, most of the capacity outside in the higher cost locations like Europe, the U.S., Canada (and to some extent Japan, Taiwan and Korea) are going to see a lot of surplus capacity being retired there. But that will only go so far. We need to start seeing some form of capacity rationalization in China, and we haven’t seen that.”
The full report “Global PV Module Manufacturing 2013: Competitive Positioning, Consolidation and the China Factor” can be found here.
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