A record level of capital equipment spending across the crystalline and thin-film manufacturing sectors was seen in the third quarter, according to the latest quarterly figures from market research firm Solarbuzz. Manufacturing equipment spending reached at least US$2.9 billion, with over 1GW of new manufacturing capacity added in the quarter. The PV industry demand is being fueled by continued strong growth in key markets in Germany and emerging markets such as the U.S. China as well as a host of new markets gaining momentum after incentive schemes were introduced.
According to Solarbuzz, the dominant crystalline-silicon process tool types (etching, diffusion, passivation deposition and printing) each delivered quarterly served addressable market sizes over US$120M in the quarter.
The market research firm noted that there was continued capacity expansions underway in the c-Si cell and thin-film module sector. It is expected that the expansion will continue through the fourth quarter of 2010, resulting in a further 1.3GW of quarterly ramped capacity coming online.
New c-Si cell lines contributed 95% of the 1.12GW of quarterly capacity brought online during Q3’10, compared to just 5% from all the thin-film module technology types.
Equipment spending on c-Si cell lines during the third quarter was said to have reached US$852M, actually down 5% Q/Q, following record high levels in Q2’10, when spending topped US$898M.
The market research firm noted that China and Taiwan cell manufacturers accounted for 80% of the added capacity. Standard c-Si cell types dominated new lines being ramped in the quarter as c-Si cell manufacturers reverted to qualified process tools and employed low-risk process flows within these fabs.
This was believed to be due to the continued high-demand and ‘sold-out’ capacity situation amongst the Tier-1 suppliers. China and Taiwan now account for a combined 72% of all c-Si cell equipment spending over the trailing 12-month reporting period.
Standard cell lines were said to have accounted for 78% of the new c-Si capacity during the quarter, with the remaining 22% spread across high-efficiency variants.
Top-tier c-Si makers continue to implement high efficiency enhancement options, with 221MW of new quarterly capacity comprised of incremental line improvements or dedicated selective emitter concepts.
Tool spending was dominated by established c-Si cell makers such as China Sunergy, DelSolar, Gintech, JA Solar, Motech, Suntech and Solartech, but the industry saw sizeable contributions from new competitors in China, including Hareon Solar, Jinko Solar, LDK Solar and ReneSola.
Equipment suppliers such as Applied Materials, Amtech, Centrotherm, Despatch, and Roth & Rau were among the leading beneficiaries over the quarter, according to Solarbuzz.
“Chinese and Taiwanese c-Si cell manufacturers are expanding at an unprecedented rate, stimulated by record levels of downstream demand through 2010,” noted Finlay Colville, senior analyst at Solarbuzz. “This wave of capacity expansion is driving equipment spending levels to record quarterly highs, reflected by strong revenues reported by leading process tool suppliers to the PV industry during 1H’10.”
“While c-Si cell capacity expansions in China and Taiwan continue to benefit qualified c-Si process tool suppliers based in Europe and North America, thin-film capital equipment spending remains increasingly fragmented by thin-film absorber type, substrate, supply-chain and manufacturing region,” added Colville.
With respect to thin-film equipment, Solarbuzz said that the spending grew 53% Q-on-Q, as a new cycle of thin-film capital equipment investment gained traction.
Tool spending within this segment remains highly fragmented, with a wide range of tool types and supply-chains being implemented during the quarter. This was in part driven by CIGS tool spending which—while exceeding US$200M and returning 165% Y-on-Y growth—was spread across a wide range of absorber, substrate, and process-flow variants.
Going forward, Solarbuzz is projecting equipment spending will remain strong for c-Si cell tooling though Q4’10, but with flat-to-negative growth. In thin film, the spending cycle will maintain growth, as existing tool backlogs are focused on new entrant’s initial fab plans.
However, PV equipment revenues are projected to decrease during 2011 as the threat of overcapacity impacts the expansion plans of leading cell and panel suppliers, Solarbuzz said.