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Chinese solar PV equipment suppliers increase market-share

NPD Solarbuzz

Ambitious solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing capacity investments across the Asia Pacific region during 2011 have provided substantial revenue growth for local solar PV equipment suppliers, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz PV Equipment Quarterly report.

Beneficiaries of these record investments include Japanese wire-saw producer Komatsu-NTC and an emerging group of Chinese tool suppliers that includes (Fujian) Apollo, 48th Research Institute (CETC-48), (Zhejiang) Jinggong, and Jingyuntong (JYT). Collectively, these four Chinese companies have posted a CAGR metric in excess of 200% for solar PV specific equipment revenues covering the period from 2008 to 2011.

Applied Materials (AMAT) is forecast to retain the top spot as leading solar PV equipment supplier by recognised revenues. AMAT’s c-Si specific solar PV revenues for CY’11 are forecast to grow by more than 60%, as process tools for wafer and back-end cell production were widely implemented throughout all geographic regions and tier categories.

Many European equipment suppliers with a strong track record within the solar PV industry (Centrotherm, Meyer Burger, Schmid, RENA, Amtech-Tempress and DEK-Solar) are also forecast to post record solar PV tool revenues for 2011.

This is contrasted by other European suppliers that have seen their solar PV market share eroded by the new Chinese competition. Consolidated solar PV revenues of Roth & Rau, Manz, ALD-Vacuum, and PVA-TePla for 2011 are estimated to have been less than 50% of this grouping’s solar PV share in 2008.

Investment in turn-key a-Si lines—mainly from China—ensured continued revenue streams for Oerlikon and Apollo during 2011. While many thin-film investments are driven by unpredictable market-entry aspirations, this segment still offers attractive, but erratic, bookings potential for tool suppliers.

According to Finlay Colville, Senior Analyst at NPD Solarbuzz: “The euphoria of announcing record revenues for 2011 is countered by the realisation that much of the tooling shipped last year was stimulated by highly ambitious capacity expansion plans that were not underpinned by market demand. Over-capacity reached chronic proportions across the c-Si value-chain during 2011, and only stronger than anticipated end-market demand in 2012 will mitigate a painful and severe equipment spending downturn.”

Equipment suppliers at risk of Y/Y revenue declines in the 60-70% range for 2012 are those most exposed to the c-Si ingot-to-module stages. Only GT Advanced Technologies, with strong market-share in polysilicon and downstream solar PV equipment (characterised by different spending cycles), is retaining healthy revenue guidance during and beyond 2012.

Technology-buy cycles continue to frustrate solar PV equipment suppliers

Excessive solar PV equipment that was shipped during 2011 is now contributing to a misleading (nameplate) capacity figure at the 50 GW level. However, many production lines are now shuttered, idled, awaiting tool installation, running at utilisation rates below 50%, or simply not capable of meeting downstream requirements on cost or efficiency. As a result, annualised, effective (or commercial), ramped capacity is closer to 30 GW.

Dominated by tier 1 (and selected tier 2) manufacturers, the short-term goal has now shifted from adding more capacity to cash preservation and repairing damaged balance sheets during 2012. The rebound in equipment spending that will ultimately be driven by these manufacturers is therefore on hold until there is sufficient confidence that end-market demand will exceed the 30 GW mark.

In the meantime, solar PV equipment suppliers are eagerly searching for technology-buys that will both soften the revenue declines during 2012 and give a clear indication of the process tool types to be prioritised from 2013.

Changes in the c-Si equipment roadmap point firmly to an increase in high-efficiency cell variants, with over 75% of capacity added during 2012 capable of producing panels with efficiency gains of 0.5% or more, compared to industry averages through 2011.

“The strategic planning for PV equipment suppliers is now shifting to 2013 and beyond, with limited prospects for revenue upside in 2012,” added Colville. “Success will be provided to those suppliers that can align product portfolios with equipment process chains that are economic in the new low cost PV manufacturing environment.”

About NPD Solarbuzz

NPD Solarbuzz, part of The NPD Group, is a globally recognised market research business focused on solar energy and photovoltaic industries. Since 2001, NPD Solarbuzz has grown its client-base to include many of the largest global solar PV manufacturers, major investment banks, equipment manufacturers, materials suppliers, hedge fund companies, and a vast range of other multi-nationals. NPD Solarbuzz offers a wide array of reports, including Marketbuzz, an annual global solar PV industry report, and Solarbuzz Quarterly, which details both historical and forecast data on the global solar PV supply chain. The company’s research also provides annual downstream solar PV market reports by region for Europe, Asia Pacific and US markets. In addition, is a recognised and respected online resource within the solar industry. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @Solarbuzz.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets