20 Years of Solar PV — Changes, Challenges and Growth

Industry Metrics

Industries are made up of things that can be categorized and counted. However, there are many things to count and many ways to count things. Further confusing the issue, are announcements of exaggerated performance — these announcements, typically of shipments and installations, obscure the real data and real size of the industry.

Industry Growth 2005-2015: The Roman Empire Rose, and Fell, Markets Rise and Markets Fall

During the period in the figure below, Europe dominated the market for solar PV deployment — at, for several years, ~80 percent of demand. BUT — during this period, markets rose and markets fell. Lesson … all markets are vulnerable.

Always look closer. During this same period, when the markets in Europe dominated demand, markets rose and fell — the lesson is that nuance tells the story that aggregation fails to tell.

Industry Growth — 1997-2017

In 1997, manufacturers began talking about the economies of scale offered by facilities with 100-MWp of capacity. Ten years later, the industry was aiming at 1-GWp facilities to offer economies of scale, and in 2017, the goal is 10-GWp.

It’s a safe bet that over time nothing changes more rapidly and completely than the makeup of a top 10 list, and this is true for all industries. Today’s captain of industry is tomorrow’s nostalgia. The figures below present the top 10 manufacturers in 1997 and in 2017.

In 1997, there were high hopes for a-Si and it had an 11 percent share of total shipments. The assumption for a-Si was that as capacities increased, the resulting economies of scale would ameliorate the lower efficiency. Ribbon Silicon had a 2 percent share in 1997 and is no longer a factor in 2017 having failed to make its cost argument as well as being unable to compete with lower priced multicrystalline from China.

1997 through 2007: Lower manufacturing costs and slight margin advantage for multi drives demand and multi begins to dominate shipments in 2002.

2007 through 2017: Shipments of multi dominate with mono, particularly p-type, gaining share in 2017 under the assumptions of slight price premium for PERC.

In 1997, the U.S. was the global PV shipment leader followed by Japan and Europe. China’s share was 1 percent

In 2017, China at 57 percent was the PV shipment leader followed by Taiwan and Malaysia. The U.S. had <1 percent share, Japan had a 3 percent share and Europe had a 2 percent share.

The Future in All Its, Honestly, Impossible-to-Imagine Glory

The future does not exist yet and forecasts are highly vulnerable to disruption.

Then again, the PV industry is a disruptive industry and until it matures — not mature yet, just bigger — it will continue to behave erratically. Questions to ask about forecasts:

  • What is being forecast?
  • What are the potential limits?
  • What is the industry bound by — that is, raw material availability, incentives, government mandates, end user tastes, affordability?

Ask first, trust with skepticism.


Lead image credit: CC0 Creative Commons | Pixabay

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SPV Market Research is a classic solar market research practice focused on gathering data through primary research and providing analyses of the global solar industry. Areas of expertise include PV technologies, markets and applications. Specifically: capacity, production, shipments, inventory, costs and prices for photovoltaic crystalline and thin film cells and modules as well as global market analysis including applications, system costs and prices, component costs and prices, market growth, history and forecasting and research into consumer attitudes about solar as well as the consumer buying experience. All Solar All of the Time www.twitter.com/paulamints1 Blog: www.paulamspv.com pmints@spvmarketresearch.com www.spvmarketresearch.com

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