PV-TECH’S TOP 10 STORIES OF 2009

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Every year we dig deep into the archive of web statistics to rediscover the most popular news stories that have captured the attention of readers in that year. While we have found that in previous years, one or two stories stand out above all others from a pageviews perspective, this year more than four stories are in close contention for the ‘top spot’ and barely a cat's whisker separates the Number 1 and Number 2 stories.

In what could hint at the battle that lies ahead in the thin-film realm, the top story for 2009 was Nanosolar's announcement of volume production plans for its unique CIGS thin-film modules. A certain level of controversy had surrounded Nanosolar as the early hype had not been followed up with any concrete plans for scaling the technology. The thin-film start-up's order backlog also demonstrated that it can actually compete with market leader First Solar.

Significant capacity expansions and a massive backlog in orders assuaged the fears and doubts of those who questioned Nanosolar’s capabilities. As with other CIGS hopefuls, 2010 looks set to up the pace of challengers to the thin-film throne currently occupied by First Solar.

A very close second (at time of publication) concerned the news that First Solar became the first PV manufacturer to reach the milestone of less than US$1.0 per watt manufacturing cost. First Solar has reached the enviable position of benchmark PV manufacturer and project developer in regard to all pV technologies. The CdTe module producer is a perennial top-story generator and is the only company to have more than one story in the Top 10 ranking with stories directly related to the company.

Back in April, iSuppli's market analyst, Dr. Henning Wicht, made significant waves with his gloomy outlook for the PV industry. Wicht projected PV installations to fall to 3.5GW in 2009, down 32% from 5.2GW installed in 2008.

The concern then was ‘massive overcapacity, plunging prices and weak demand for solar as a consequence of the global economic recession.’ However, things didn’t quite turn out that way as the market demand recovered, with Germany helping to fill the deep hole left from the collapse of the Spanish market in late ’08.

Only recently, and with a healthy smattering of ‘I told you so’ comments, Wicht revised his forecast upwards.

Mid-year brought another market analyst projection that made the industry stand up and take notice. Others later followed with the same conclusion but Paula Mints from Navigant Consulting was the first to observe that First Solar could indeed become the Number 1 PV producer in 2009.

Another market research firm took the Number 5 spot with its calculations on another set of rankings: this time VLSI Research’s Top 10 PV cell equipment suppliers list for 2008.

As far as we can tell, this is the first time such a list has been compiled and with the recent news of the merger between Meyer Burger and 3S, we already know there will be major changes in the rankings for 2009.

Ranked 6th is another story from iSuppli. This time the story concerns the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) over the size and effect of overcapacity in the PV supply chain.

Despite this report, five months later we reported several companies from many sectors of the industry claiming time and again that modules and inverters were in short supply. The year will probably go down as one of a ‘game of two halves.’

Yet another well-known market research firm, Photon Consulting, caught readers' interest with an analysis of market conditions facing the industry in the first half of the year, and more importantly, a rundown of which companies were more likely to 'survive' the harsh market conditions.

Was First Solar mentioned as a survivor, you may ask? Of course it was, along with LDK Solar, Q-Cells, REC, SolarWorld, SunPower, Suntech, and Yingli Green. However, recent news concerning the liquidity issues at LDK Solar makes this one to watch. Interestingly, Q-Cells and REC have had a rough year with many issues to overcome. Perhaps the story on this one is still ongoing?

The story about the planned UK FiT, ranked 8th most popular story for 2009, is actually the surprise entrant in my opinion. After all, there isn’t much really written about the solar industry in the UK, basically because there isn’t much going on when compared to the major markets. Could its popularity be because there was actually something written about the solar sector in the UK, which caught our readers' interest?

First Solar appears again at Number 9 with the news from iSuppli that it is gaining market share and is the only PV manufacturer to have done so in 2009. This news was relayed in September, long after Navigant's Paula Mints had spotted the trend.

In what has revealed itself as a developing trend among readers, the 10th most read story of 2009 concerned the market data report on the 2008 PV market, published by EPIA. Readers may have flocked to this story as it poignantly looked back to a good year market-wise. While the market was barely recovering from a cold winter and even colder sales, readers felt a little warmer from its message that ’08 had indeed been very good year.

TOP 10 NEWS STORIES

1.    Printed PV: Nanosolar unveils 640MW utility-scale panel fab, high-efficiency CIGS cell production
2.    First Solar first to US$1 per watt manufacturing cost
3.    Major market decline forecasted for the solar industry in 2009, according to iSuppli
4.    Analyst predicts First Solar to become largest solar module manufacturer in ‘09
5.    VLSI Research reveals top 10 PV cell equipment suppliers
6.    Massive solar module overcapacity to remain a problem until 2012, says iSuppli
7.    Photon Consulting picks low-cost solar survivors
8.    UK set to approve feed-in tariff for renewables micro-generation
9.    First Solar’s market share set to soar
10.  EPIA: Photovoltaics market topped 5.5GW in 2008; 129% growth y-on-y

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