U.S. Releases Solar Photovoltaic Market Stats

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report this month covering U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal market activity in 2003. While the U.S. solar thermal market was ho-hum last year, the PV cell and module business was anything but dull. The second-largest manufacturer of PV cells and modules, AstroPower, went bankrupt. Other major manufacturers significantly changed their relative outputs of cells and modules, as well as entering and leaving major end-use markets. The result was the first decline in total peak kW production of PV cells and modules since EIA resumed collecting such data in 1986. Here, in the first of a two-part series, SolarAccess.com has compiled some key information from the report summarizing U.S. solar PV market activities in 2003. The second part of this installment, delving into solar thermal activities for 2003, can be accessed at this link

Washington D.C. – September 17, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] Photovoltaic Cells and Modules After uninterrupted increases for nearly two decades, shipments of PV cells and modules declined 2.5 percent in 2003 to 109,357 peak kW. Exports dropped sharply 9 percent while domestic shipments rose 7 percent. Module shipments increased 24 percent to 80,062 peak kW, but cell shipments decreased to 29,295 peak kW from 47,677 peak kW in 2002 . Two major events occurred in the PV industry during 2003 that affected cell and module shipments: The second-largest producer of PV cells and modules, AstroPower, went bankrupt. Its assets were purchased by General Electric’s solar division. The bankruptcy had a major impact on the amount and distribution of cell and module shipments, as will be described later. Shell Solar repurchased substantial quantities of cells during 2003 for module manufacture. Both of these events affected shipments to business categories. Shipments to module manufacturers decreased nearly two-thirds, owing largely to Shell Solar cell repurchases, which are treated as negative shipments. In contrast, shipments to exporters and end-users rose substantially. Single crystal cell and module shipments suffered the worst drop in 2003 of all PV technologies, falling 15,000 peak kW. This was due in large measure to the fact that Astropower produced only single crystal cells. The sharp increase in cast and ribbon cell and module shipments was largely due to one company, RWE, expanding its module capacity substantially during 2003. Other companies also expanded module capacity. Softer shipments also adversely affected prices in 2003. The average cell price per peak watt for the most prevalent technology, single-crystal silicon, dropped to $1.88 from $2.14 in 2002. Single-crystal module prices also dropped, despite increased shipments, from $3.64 in 2002 to $3.38 in 2003. The average price per peak watt of all PV cells displayed a similar pattern ($2.12 to $1.86), while the average price of modules declined more ($3.74 to $3.17) than did the price of single-crystal modules. The decline in average price combined with the drop in shipments to reduce the total value of PV shipments to $308 million in 2003, a 9 percent decline from 2002 . The value of PV shipments still outweighs the value of solar thermal collectors by an eight to one margin. Market sector and end-use distributions of PV shipments in 2003 changed considerably from 2002. Shipments in 2003 to the industrial and residential markets declined sharply, 13 and 20 percent, respectively. Commercial shipments, in contrast, rose nearly 60 percent from about 21,000 peak kW in 2002 to nearly 33,000 peak kW in 2003. Much of the commercial market increase was due to Shell Solar, which discontinued its recreational vehicle kits and began providing rooftop applications in 2003. This made the commercial market the largest market for PV shipments in 2003, supplanting the industrial market. The distribution of former Astropower markets also affected 2003 market sector shipments substantially. Shell Solar’s product switch also affected the distribution of shipments to end-use categories. Shipments to the transportation sector declined in 2003 by nearly 2,000 peak kW, or 12 percent. Also, grid-interactive electricity generation shipments, which are how rooftop applications are generally used, rose almost 9,000 peak kW to over 42,000 peak kW in 2003. With nearly a 40 percent share in 2003, the grid-interactive application increased its position as the predominant use of PV cell and module shipments, up from 30 percent in 2002. PV exports were split nearly 50:50 between cells and modules during 2003. This was fairly similar to the 2002 pattern, when cells held a slight edge. Over half of 2003 PV exports were to Germany, which imported 2.5 times more U.S. cells and modules than the next-largest importer, Hong Kong. Shipments of complete PV systems dropped 21 percent in 2003, yet the total peak kW and value of shipped systems actually rose substantially. These characteristics are heavily influenced by Shell Solar’s change in product mix to larger rooftop installations. These developments affected prices. While the price per system increased more than 40 percent in 2003, the price per peak kW dropped only slightly ($5.28 in 2003 versus $5.51 in 2002). Employment in the PV manufacturing industry dropped slightly in 2003 but remained at approximately 2001-2002 levels. Employment rose fairly steadily from 1994 through 1998, then remained stable through 2000. Despite only a 10 percent market share, five companies plan to introduce new thin-film products. Seven more companies are planning for new products using crystalline silicon technology. No new flat plate or concentrator products are planned. The number and type of companies involved in PV-related businesses remained essentially unchanged in 2003. For the second article of this two-part series which summarizes key solar thermal activity in the 2003 U.S. market click this link . For the full EIA report (30 pages, .PDF) covering both technologies click the link below.


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