Solar PV in perspective - from 2012 to 2014

David Hopwood

Part 2: In this series of articles we examine the recent history of the Solar Photovoltaic industry, as well as look forward to 2014.

In part 1 (see here) and part 2 (below), Renewable Energy Focus power generation previews REMIPEG's latest update, carried out in the first four months of 2013 by Lahmeyer International, and presents an overview of the PV industry up until the end of 2012.

In parts 3, 4, and 5, Paula Mints of SPV Market Research takes us through some lessons learned from 2013.

Part 1 and 2 of this series are taken from the July/August 2013 issue of Renewable Energy Focus (REFocus) magazine. For a free subscription, click here.

Manufacturer woes - rewind to 2012

2012 was a difficult year for PV manufacturers due to the highly competitive environment. Many of the top 10 module suppliers lost market share in 2012 in comparison with 2011.

Despite this, Yingli managed to increase its shipments volume by 43%, leaving behind Suntech (which subsequently went into meltdown) and First Solar, the largest suppliers in 2011. In fact, Suntech fell to fifth position in the rankings, falling behind Trina Solar and Canadan Solar. First Solar successfully defended its position though, staying at the number two slot.

In 2012 as decreasing prices continued to hamper manufacturers, many PV firms went to bankruptcy or were taken over by other companies. Q-cells, Solar Millenium, Solar Trust, Konarka, Solarhybrid, Nova Solar, Evergreen Solar and SpectraWatt are some examples.

The Concentrated PV (CPV) market is still small but increasing in importance due to the high efficiency of the technology, which is around 40% in comparison with the 20% of typical PV panels. In the US, the major CPV players of 2012 were SolFocus, Amonix, EMCORE, and Skyline Solar. European companies pursuing CPV projects included Soitec Solar (formerly Concentrix), Abengoa Solar and ArimaEco.

The large majority of CPV projects under development remain in the US, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Australia. The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) has predicted CPV installation would be at least 1GW annually by 2015. So far, the CPV market has been dominated by High Concentration PV (HCPV) systems, while Low Concentration PV (LCPV) installations may speed up the next five years, accounting for a 20% share of the CPV market by 2016, according to IMS Research.

The inverter market is expected to grow from $45bn in 2012 to $71bn in 2020, IMS adds. Thus, more than 28 million units were shipped in 2012 and it is estimated that will grow to 80 million units in 2020.

Despite the numbers, the largest suppliers of PV inverters lost market share in 2012 due to its poor presence in the Chinese and Japanese market. The market leader SMA Solar Technology saw how the demand of its products decreased in its core markets and its share of global revenue fell for the third consecutive year to slightly more than 25%.

Work on improving PV inverters to this day remains focused on sharpening the performance. For example, silicon-based insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) have improved (higher current density, thinner and faster), as have SiC- and GaN-based devices, noted Semiconductor Today.

The global PV panel industry, meanwhile, saw notable cost reductions over the three years prior to 2012, with a trend of more than 20% annually mainly due to:

  • competition,
  • economies of scale and
  • technological and manufacturing advances.

The low prices offered from China also led to competitive manufacturing prices globally. The average price of the modules fell from €2.0-2.5/Wp in 2009 to €0.7-1.0/Wp in 2012, according to FirstGreen Consulting.

Part 3 to follow...

The REMIPEG databank

With its Renewable Electricity Market, Installed Power and Annual Electricity Generation (REMIPEG), German engineering firm Lahmeyer International has tracked the implementation of renewable electricity capacity around the world since 2008, updating its database annually, with Renewable Energy Focus then publishing the results.

Providing totals for newly installed plant, cumulative capacity, and estimated electricity generation output, country-by-country, for each renewable energy generation source, the databank is compiled using publicly available information along with expert information from consultants in the field.

The authors of the REMIPEG report are Dr. Andreas Wiese, Dr. Patric Kleineidam, Kuno Schallenberg, Florian Remann, Thorben Gunkel, Camilo Varas, Holger Zebner, Gildas Courtet, and Sergi Pedra from Lahmeyer International GmbH; Andrea Stooßa from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology, and Stadtreinigung Hamburg; and Martin Kaltschmitt, also from the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics, Hamburg University of Technology.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity