Top 10 PV-Tech news stories of 2012

  • Siemens tracking mirror
    Siemens tracking mirror: the German manufacturer has announced its plans to quit solar. Image: Siemens

The PV industry has now experienced two years of turmoil and recent projections from industry observers as well as from company executives is that 2013 could follow the same course. Not surprisingly therefore the ‘solar shakeout’ has dominated news and this is reflected in the top 10 news stories for 2012 from the PV-Tech website.

However, despite or because of the turmoil, PV-Tech has once again tracked news across the entire PV supply chain and estimated that news flow has increased almost 40% compared to 2011, which had grown over 50%, compared to 2010.

However, news flow generated during major industry exhibitions and conferences actually declined approximately 30% in 2012, compared to the previous year. Major gatherings such as EU PVSEC and SPI actually experienced slightly higher news flow declines than the average from all major events in 2012.

The higher news flow in 2012 meant PV Tech saw an increase in page views compared to last year. The website had over 9 million pages views in 2012, while visits also increased, topping 2 million, according to independent data from Google Analytics.

On a regional basis, visits increased in several strong traditional viewing countries such as the US and Germany, while the same occurred from emerging countries such as India, Japan, Australia and Malaysia, which established themselves within the top 20 countries visiting the PV-Tech website. 

Another feature of the top 20 was the ‘not set’ category, relating to mobile devices such as smart phones and notepad computers This has experienced one of the strongest visitor growth levels over the last three years and for the first time is within the top 20 ‘countries’ category of people visiting the site on an annual basis.

Overall, visitors arrived to the PV-Tech website from over 200 countries in 2012. However, the most significant regional visitor factor was the website receiving its first ever visits (two) from Greenland. This industry observer has waited five years to say that!

Despite the prevailing doom and gloom in the most viewed news stories this year it is heartening to see that that the story with 10th highest viewing figures harkens back to the year before when record cell and module efficiencies were frequent and hugely popular. This is related to Suntech Power Holdings further pushing its Pluto cell technology to 20.3% conversion efficiency levels. Readers should be reminded that this was achieved with standard commercial-grade p-type silicon wafers on production line tools.

A company that dominated viewing figures in 2010 resurfaced in 2012 at number 9 – First Solar. However, the news concerned the restructuring of its manufacturing to better match production to demand with the planned closure of its two plants in Germany. Yet the company experienced improved business conditions soon after the closure announcement in April, with the closure pushed out until the end of the year.

A key company, NPD Solarbuzz, which featured heavily in the Top 10 blogs of 2012, also made 8th position within the news top 10. A month before First Solar’s announcement, the market research firm announced that it expected average crystalline silicon module factory-gate prices could decline by 29% this year. Stories surrounding module pricing issues have continued to be a strong draw all year. NPD Solarbuzz’s forecast of ASP declines remains in range three quarters later.

The surprise entrant in the top 10 is at number 7, a story that has its routes in the Solyndra saga. The story concerned a lawsuit directed at the US Departments of the Interior by the publication, Judicial Watch, which was questioning motives behind a planned but not implemented loan offer of US$1.2 billion to SunPower Corporation. Although nothing else of any importance has been heard about the issue since, the story certainly caught the interest of a significant number of readers.

In 6th position is coverage of PHOTON International’s annual market survey, which reinforced the view that China-based module manufacturers were dominating the industry, with claims that six out of the top 10 leaders were Chinese. Regrettably, the publishing company recently joined another list of those in the ranks of receivership.

If it was not bankruptcies that were a regular news feature of 2012, then mergers and acquisitions were a close second. In 5th place was the news in early March that Oerlikon Solar would be bought by major semiconductor and FPD equipment supplier, Tokyo Electron. The closure of the deal took almost the rest of the year and it will be interesting to see how the pioneer of silicon thin-film technology fares in the future.

The solar shakeout issue also featured in the 4th most popular news story of the year – and not surprisingly as it was widely viewed as a big surprise that Siemens would exit the PV sector, selling its solar business activities as part of a reorganisation of its energy division. Only a couple of months later, GT Advanced Technologies also decided to pull out of the DSS furnace market due to market conditions.

Back to the beginning of the year and another topic that is a perennial favourite concerns polysilicon. In 3rd position was coverage of a report by market research firm GTM Research, which forecasted further polysilicon ASP declines and the multiple knock-on effects this would have on pricing and production cost reductions in 2012. A key projection that polysilicon prices would continue to set record low levels in 2012 as in 2011 proved correct. Polysilicon spot prices are in the US$16/kg range as we exit the year.

In 2nd position was another solar shakeout story and like Siemens another surprise. This time it was the decision by Schott Solar to also exit part of the sector, closing down its c-Si PV manufacturing operations completely due to its inability to keep ASP declines in tandem with manufacturing cost reductions. This is a consistent theme over the last two years and one that has resonated in the US, Europe and India and China. All four regions have reverted to pricing investigations, with the US already implementing duties, while companies continue to face losses or worse.

At number 1, the most viewed story on PV-Tech in 2012 was actually posted in early December, 2011. It covered reports from China that 50% of PV manufacturers had stopped production. The story has run and run all year, which is not that surprising considering it has proven difficult to accurately account for the actual number of Chinese producers and which of these have actually closed down or simply idled lines in hope of a pricing recovery.

More recently, news again coming out of China suggests that 90% of polysilicon producers have stopped production as spot prices are far below production costs.

The most viewed story this year also reflects the need within the industry for greater supply chain transparency and of course the continued need for true capacity consolidation.

Listed below are the blog headlines and links to the Top 10 blogs in ranking order:

1. Report claims 50% of Chinese solar firms have ceased production

2. Solar shakeout: Schott Solar announces surprise exit from c-Si manufacturing

3. Polysilicon price declines will continue sector shakeout, says GTM Research

4. Siemens plans solar business exit

5. Solar shakeout: Oerlikon Solar to be sold to Tokyo Electron

6. China dominates top ten global solar manufacturers

7. Lawsuit filed against US government over allegations of offering US$1.2 billion bailout of SunPower

8. NPD Solarbuzz: Solar module prices to fall at least 29% in 2012 as market decline possible

9. First Solar to axe 2,000 jobs, close German plant and idle other lines

10. Suntech's Pluto technology achieves world-record 20.3% efficiency

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