PV-Tech recently announced that its most read blog post of 2011 was an article from IMS Research entitled ‘PV module costs and prices – what is really happening?’, written almost 18 months ago in August 2010. The popularity of this post clearly says something about what the PV industry was talking about throughout all of last year, and still will be talking about in 2012. Looking back now at the article I thought it would be interesting to revisit some of the predictions made versus what happened in reality, as well as considering what the future holds 12 months on.
Not withstanding the tumultuous year for solar cell and thin-film manufacturers, the top-10 rankings for 2011 saw only a few changes in position from 12 months ago. Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers maintained their prominence, securing 8 of the top-10 positions. But the number-one position in 2011 goes to First Solar, the only thin-film manufacturer on the list.
The simple answer is yes. Certainly enough modules and inverters were sold, and if installations really did hit 7.5GW in Germany then this would undoubtedly mean that at least 26GW was installed globally last year, with Germany retaining its position as the largest market, followed closely by Italy. We’re still finalising our data for 2011, but we now estimate up to 26.5GW could have been installed last year following the phenomenal year-end rally in Germany. This would have meant an incredible 10 GW was installed in the last quarter of the year – the first time this has ever happened and more than the whole amount installed in all of 2009!
A 30% cut in feed-in tariffs in Germany, after a record 7.5GW of new solar power generation installed in the country in 2011, is almost guaranteed based on the current regression system; double the level seen in 2010. Pressure is now on the German government to combat another year of record installations. This would require further changes in the EEG mechanism, as PV system price declines have been greater than the FiT reductions, boosting investor IRR and renewed interest in PV after a dismal first-half year level of adoption.
News that Norsk Hydro has sold its stake in CIGS thin-film wannabe, Ascent Solar, for US$4 million, to another investor, TFG Radiant Investment Group, may not help the struggling firm with sorely needed cash injections. Nevertheless, it would indicate a level of ‘trust’ in the firm to help ride out the current industry-wide challenges.
For the past few weeks all anyone in the UK solar industry has been talking about is feed-in tariff cuts and unexpected deadlines. In fact, since Government announced it would be reducing the incentive rates by more than 50% for household solar installations, almighty chaos has broken out. Friends of the Earth and two solar companies recently won their case against the unforeseen December 12 cut-off point – but is this really a “victory” for the UK solar industry, or have we been plonked between a rock and a hard place?
Among the sometimes troubling and downright negative news in the solar space of late, the narrative of one company and the emerging sector it represents has been moving in a decidedly more upward and positive arc. Soitec, the French firm which entered the concentrating photovoltaics area via its acquisition of Concentrix two years ago, has been on a roll for most of 2011, with its momentum accelerating the past couple of months. The closing of the deal to build a new factory in San Diego (and ceremony celebrating the news) combined with the California Public Utilities Commission approval of the power purchase agreement for a 150MW project to which Soitec will supply the CPV modules/systems are the latest examples of the firm’s recent string of successes.
Much of last week’s coverage of the Warren Buffett-branded acquisition of First Solar’s Topaz Solar Farm by Berkshire Hathaway-backed MidAmerican Energy Holdings overlooked the sage multigazillionaire’s numerous indirect investments into photovoltaics. Though known for several forays into wind power, his group also holds a 9.9% interest in Chinese electric car, energy storage, and PV manufacturer BYD, a 10.5% piece of German insurer/project owner and Munich RE; and 4.6% in Korean steelmaker Posco, which has emerged as a solar project EPC firm and investor.
First Solar is holding a conference call tomorrow (Wednesday, December 14, 8:00am EST) to provide financial guidance for 2012. As we noted recently, the CdTe thin film leader is set to be the first of any major PV manufacturer to give guidance for next year, after what can only be described as a ‘challenging’ year for the whole industry.
The US International Trade Commission voted unanimously on Friday in a preliminary ruling on the antidumping petition filed by SolarWorld and five other companies calling for countervailing duties against Chinese solar companies. It’s officially ‘game on’ now as the US ITC will now proceed with a full investigation. But is it ‘game over’ for SolarWorld and those companies failing to lower their prices, open new solar electric markets, and compete to win?