China-based Yingli has been crowned the largest global supplier of PV modules of 2012 by information and analytics provider IHS.

Yingli managed to increase its merchant shipment volumes by 43% year-over-year to leapfrog Suntech.

Suntech’s demise will come as no surprise with factory closures and production cuts last year. Then finally, on 20 March 2013, the manufacturing unit of the company announced insolvency.

US-based First Solar, the two largest suppliers of 2011 however managed to defend its position at number two. Last month, IHS Research selected First Solar as the world’s largest engineering, procurement and construction contractor last year.

REC was the only top 10 supplier headquartered in Europe, which grew faster than most of its Chinese competitors in 2012. IHS said that REC increased its module shipments by 31% year-over-year to 757MW.

With regards to the other suppliers in the Top 10, principal analyst for solar at IHS Stefan de Haan stated: “Canadian Solar, as well as Jinko Solar and Hanwha SolarOne were the only Top 10 companies that managed to grow merchant module shipments at a double-digit rate in 2012 – in addition to Yingli and REC, of course.”

De Haan continued: “SunPower and Trina grew at a slower pace, while Suntech, First Solar and Sharp from Japan saw declining shipment volumes. Global PV end markets increased by a robust 14% in 2012, so on average the leading module suppliers effectively lost some ground.”

The top 10 module suppliers achieved a combined share of 40% of global module shipments, down from 2011’s 46%.

According to the IHS Q1 PV Integrated Market Tracker, the entities gaining share from the top 10 companies were the large, but not yet leading, players that continued to aggressively scale up their operations during a phase of general pessimism.

“Japanese suppliers Solar Frontier and Kyocera expanded output and shipments massively in 2012, and both benefited from the current boom in Japan,” de Haan added. “Solar Frontier climbed from number 14 in 2011 to 11th place in 2012, while Kyocera rose from number 17 to number 12.”

Strong performance was also recorded for Chinese suppliers Renesola, Astronergy, Hareon Solar, and JA Solar, increasing module shipments by more than 200MW for each in 2012.

De Haan reported that the companies that showed positive growth had their fingers in more than one pie to guarantee their growth.

Until 2011 it was sufficient for the leading module suppliers to focus on very few key markets in the world – above all on Germany and Italy – in order to maintain a successful business. However, this situation has changed.

“As a reaction to the shifting of global installation volumes away from Europe, the strategies of top players are increasingly branching out,” de Haan explained.

Yingli generated 24% of its 2012 revenue in China. Jinko is another winner in this market, shipping approximately 400MW to China alone in 2012 while also building up a strong presence in South Africa. For its part, Canadian Solar generated 26% of 2012 sales in the US market and is also one of the strongest imported brands in Japan.

First Solar, on the other hand, is anchoring itself to the Latin America market with the acquisition of a Chilean-based developer and its portfolio.

“A good granular understanding of the supply-and-demand dynamics in tens of individual markets – encompassing mature and emerging spaces alike – will be key to sustainable profitability,” concluded de Haan.