PHOTON International’s annual market survey reveals six out of the top ten global solar manufacturers are Chinese. Suntech Power won first place for the second year running. In 2008, only 33% of solar cells were produced in China, whereas presently, the country makes over 57%. However, for the first time, European and Japanese manufacturers did not appear in the top ten.

Consolidation has primarily affected western companies so far with large bankruptcies and job losses. “PV companies had better find partners, new parents or subsidiaries to be able to develop new business streams and expand into up-and-coming solar markets. Otherwise they won’t have the strength to weather the storm,” said Michael Schmela, editor-in-chief of PHOTON International. The shift in cell manufacturing to Asia will get a further push as consolidation increased momentum in 2011, when demand – which the most optimistic analysts estimate was around 28 GW last year - could not catch up with supply.

“The days of solar cell production in western countries are numbered,” says Schmela. “Like other commodities, solar cell production will continue its rapid shift to low-labour-cost countries in Asia, especially China.”

Chinese cell producers are predicting a combined production of around 52.5GW in 2012 – a 41% growth year-on-year. Overall, they are planning to increase capacities by 19% to around 69GW in 2012, after raising capacity by 57% to nearly 58GW by the end of 2011.

Schmela believes an increase in production will be dependent on how countries like Germany and Italy revise their funding schemes. “While the cell makers’ ambitions to expand are much more modest than a year ago, the real production number will not likely increase much beyond 37GW, if at all,” he said.

Chinese cell manufacturers will continue to dominate in 2012 claims PHOTON International with the possibility they could even take over the first five places in the rankings. The two western companies, First Solar and SunPower, are likely to remain in the top ten, but the magazine believes that not only will they later descend the ladder; both will probably produce the majority of their cells in Asia.