Solar module price erosion to cause industry fall-out, says Lux Research

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In its latest solar market research report, Lux Research paints a gloomy picture of a looming overcapacity in photovoltaic module production as the demand for solar is impacted by caps on installations in Spain and the continued uncertainties of the market in the U.S. When coupled to slower than expected adoption levels in new emerging markets of France and Italy, the industry is heading for module over supply in the fourth quarter of 2008 of approximately 400MW, which will significantly increase in 2009 to 3.9GW.

“As solar subsidies diminish over the next year, the current bonanza in which all players are winners will come to an end,” said Ted Sullivan, Senior Analyst at Lux Research. “We expect module oversupply to occur early in 2009, and the resulting aggressive price reductions to trigger an industry shake-out, with the weakest players being acquired or failing. While falling prices will help stimulate continued demand growth, a booming supply build-out will mean that solar manufacturers will face margin pressures for years to come.” 

In Lux Research’s latest report, ‘Solar State of the Market Q3 2008: The Rocky Road to $100 Billion,’ the solar market is expected to grow 48 percent per annum through 2013, reaching 23GW compared to its forecast of 4.9GW for 2008.

The reduction in government subsidies that take affect in 2009 and will be compounded by the growing pace of PV production capacity ramps, resulting in 7.9GW of installed modules but with an over supply of 3.9GW.

The result will be significant module price erosion impacting profits and revenue, which will grow a slower average rate of 33 percent, according to the market research firm. With that expected growth rate the PV industry is projected to reach revenues of $100.4 billion in 2013. Lux Research estimates the PV industry will have revenue of $33.4 billion in 2008.

Sullivan’s gloomy outlook for the smaller PV manufacturers, unable to reduce manufacturing costs faster than the price declines over a sustained period will close, or merge with others to gain manufacturing scale.

However, he sees little success for those companies, noting in response to Photovoltaics International’s questions that PV manufacturers with 300MW capacity and above will be the companies increasingly merging.

Sullivan said to Photovoltaics International in an email response that ‘companies smaller than this will more likely be forced to auction off equipment in a fire sale than to see an acquisition of the entire business.’

These sentiments would seem to run in parallel with those of Tatsumi Maeda, Managing Executive Officer of Kyocera, in an interview with Reuters at the beginning of this week, where he was quoted as saying that he expects 80 percent of PV manufacturers to fail as module prices begin a sustained fall. Maeda referenced that there were approximately 200 companies in the PV market, currently.

Photon Consulting, also issued a new report this week, citing its revised analysis of more than 1,500 companies operating in the solar market, suggesting that only six, including First Solar, Q-Cells, REC, SolarWorld, SunPower and Suntech, were in the best position  to succeed in the changing environment.

(Lux Research, October, 2008)

— Mark Osborne, Editor-in-Chief 


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