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The world’s 10 biggest solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms are expected to jointly install 8GW of PV capacity this year, according to new analysis from IHS.

IHS’ ranking of the predicted top EPC firms of 2014 shows an ongoing struggle between US and Chinese firms at the top of the pile, with the balance of power fairly evenly poised.

IHS predicts three out of the top five firms this year will be from the US, a reversal of the situation in 2013. However, of the top 10 in 2014, six will be from China.

In a change from IHS’ previous predictions in May, First Solar looks set to retain its slot as the world’s top EPC firm once again in 2014. IHS had originally predicted it would lose this position to an ascendant TBEA Solar, China’s dominant EPC player.

Elsewhere in the top five, SunEdison is forecast to rise two places to number three, while SunPower will find its way into the top five at the expense of Shanghai Solar Energy.

With 8GW of projects set to be completed between them in 2014, the top 10 firms will account for 20% of new non-residential PV installations this year.

IHS senior analyst Josefin Berg said the top EPC firms built their success on expanding domestic demand, with the exception of SunEdison, which is set to install half of an estimated 950MW of PV this year outside the US.

This trend is borne out by the relatively hard time European EPC firms are having as their domestic markets dwindle. Leading European EPC firms Abengoa and Belectric are both forecast to fall out of the top 10 in 2014.

South Africa safe haven

IHS said South Africa was proving to be a sanctuary for European firms.

The booming PV market there is expected to put on 600MW of new capacity this year. IHS estimates that 70% of that capacity will be completed by European firms – Spain’s ACS Cobra, TerniEnergia, which is working with Italy’s Enel Green Power, and Siemens Energy.

“Opportunities in new markets such as South Africa are essential for EPC companies,” Berg noted. “This is because European PV demand will decline to 10 GW in 2014, so South Africa and new markets represent growth opportunities for the industry.”

Other European integrators that have shifted focus to South Africa through major EPC contracts include Scatec Solar, juwi and Gestamp Solar.