The continued crash in polysilicon prices in 2012 has finally brought some rational thinking to the sector as tier 1 suppliers have cut plant utilisation rates to below 70%, according to the latest figures from market research firm, NPD Solarbuzz.
Polysilicon prices have fallen drastically over the last two-years, ending at around US$15/kg on the spot market, a record low. Structural overcapacity and weaker than expected demand were the driving influences, forcing many companies to shutdown plants completely or exit the sector altogether.
However, in 2012 major high-volume producers had continued to keep utilization rates (typically in the 90% range) high to keep production costs as low as possible. According to NPD Solarbuzz, analysis shows that despite a 70% ASP decline between the first quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, producers maintained these high utilization rates.
Charles Annis, Vice President at NPD Solarbuzz noted: “Polysilicon makers strive to run plants at optimal capacity levels, where maximising production offers the lowest cost structures by spreading depreciation costs over a larger volume. This often results in the highest yields, avoids shutdown/start-up costs, and enables volume purchases of raw materials.”
Price declines seen in later part of 2012 were said to be driven by high polysilicon inventory levels in China.
According to the market research firm approximately 188,000MT of polysilicon was consumed in China for PV applications between Q1 2011 and Q3 2012, yet 262,000MT of materials was available in the country from a combination of domestic production and foreign imports.
The data supports claims made by Chinese authorities that polysilicon imports had climbed significantly, impacting domestic producers to the degree that the majority had halted production as ASPs fell far below production costs. NPD Solarbuzz said that in 2012, 74,000MT of excess supply existed.
“The rationalisation of supply finally started stabilizing polysilicon prices towards the end of Q4’12, and this trend continues into early Q1’13,” added Annis. “Even so, price pressure is expected to remain strong with polysilicon makers hoping to increase utilisation rates as early as possible. Moreover, several polysilicon plants are still currently scheduled for completion, but this new capacity is likely to remain idle until end-market PV demand increases.”