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As the third quarter of 2012 comes to an end - and many of the leading module suppliers are in the midst of reporting second quarter results and attempting to offer guidance for full-year 2012 shipments - it is now becoming possible to form a picture of what the 2012 PV shipment rankings will look like by year-end.

Without a doubt, the landscape of global PV module manufacturing has changed significantly in the past few quarters, with gross margins in the single-digit percentage range at best. So, in such a difficult environment for all upstream PV manufacturers, who will prevail at year-end and notch up the top rankings slot for the most MW of module shipments?

Based on existing company guidance and NPD Solarbuzz estimates of projected module shipments by company through to the end of 2012, we have come up with amost-likelytop-10 list for 2012, where the rankings are provided by full-year module shipments in MW.

The new top-10 list seems more like a reshuffle of 2011, with JA Solar replacing Kyocera at the 10th position being the only notable change.

But this change is important as it shows that JA Solar has now successfully repositioned from a (dominantly pure-play) cell supplier to a leading PV module supplier, and avoided the inevitable ‘squeeze’ of being a legacy pure-play midstream player in an overcrowded low-ASP industry.

But it is Yingli that may capture the headlines by the end of 2012, by taking the No.1 position for the first time ever – a position that was previously occupied by Suntech and First Solar.

In fact, Yingli is also set to challenge the world record of PV module shipment within any calendar year, and become only the second company to post an annual shipment level that exceeds the 2GW-threshold. (Suntech was the first in 2011 with 2,096MW of shipment, and Suntech is likely to be ranked No.2 in 2012).

Trina Solar, First Solar and Canadian Solar are likely to occupy the next 3 ranking positions in 2012. Their full year shipment numbers may turn out to be similar, making final counting and ranking a close call - just 50MW of difference may change the relative positions. A similar situation is likely for SunPower, Jinko Solar, and Hanwha SolarOne, competing for 7th place.

Sharp Solar is likely to be the only Japanese company in 2012 top-10 list. Strong domestic demand (as the result of new Japanese PV incentives) is likely to ensure that Sharp retains the 6th position, compensating for the reduced module production from Sharp’s overseas module plants in 2012.

However, the underlying trend to Chinese module domination still emerges in the top-10 rankings. Seven of the top-10 companies for 2012 are China-based manufacturers. And the other 3 are characterized by having dominant manufacturing presence across Southeast Asia and Japan.

As a total percentage, module shipment from the top-10 companies will be equivalent to almost 50% of global module demand in 2012, increasing from 46% in 2011. The increasing market share of the leading module suppliers is just one consequence of the global PV shakeout of the past 12 months, and is likely to continue in the next few years.