R&D expenditure in 2014 increased by almost US$100 million from the previous year to reach a new record of US$512.75 million from 12 major tier-one PV module manufacturers, PV Tech has historically tracked in its annual PV R&D spending report. 

Previous reports had noted, especially in 2013 that R&D spending had not been immune from the PV industry’s period of profitless prosperity and was deemed a discretionary spend by the majority of leading producers.

However, the improving business conditions last year, coupled to increased momentum in pushing solar cell conversions efficiencies were the key drivers to the spending increase for 11 out of the 12 companies tracked. 

In tandem with the increase in spending was a significant increase in R&D personnel, which reached a new record of 4,661, up from 2,911 in 2013. R&D headcounts had previously peaked in 2011 at 3,575. 

Top rankings 

Once again First Solar allocated more financial resources to R&D activities in 2014 than its nearest rivals, taking expenditure to US$143.9 million, up from US$134.3 million in the previous year.

The CdTe thin-film producer has now been ranked first for six consecutive years. 

Despite business as usual at the top of spending rankings there was significant movement in nearly all other positions, impacted by some companies increasing R&D spending far more than others such as Yingli Green, compared to SunPower. 

Most companies moved two ranking positions either up or down in 2015, with Hanwha SolarOne losing three rankings positions on a small reduction in spending from 2013, the only company that lowered spending in 2014. 

Further analysis of the leaders and laggards in R&D spending can be read in this editor’s blog