Top 10 PV-Tech blogs of 2012

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Both the editor’s and guest blog sections of the PV-Tech website once again generated significant traffic in 2012. Consistently over the year blogs would compete with top news stories of the week as the most viewed, reinforcing their continued popularity.

Guest blogs dominate the rankings this year, and particularly guest blogs from Finlay Colville, Vice-President at market research firm NPD Solarbuzz.

Despite having collected more air miles than the PV-Tech editorial team combined, amazingly Finlay has been able to provide great insight into the PV industry and the challenging dynamics all year. Hopefully he is not too exhausted to continue his contributions in 2013, especially as it’s clear he has a big following.

Another notable contributor is Richard Keiser from Keiser Analytics. His unique modelling work was a huge pull in a November 2011 guest blog that just slipped out of the top 10 rankings for this year. His second exclusive guest blog in August 2012 also sits just outside the rankings.

The 10th most popular blog in 2012 was one of many from Finlay Colville. The mid-year guest blog noted PV manufacturers were predominantly focused on manufacturing cost reduction strategies rather than conversion efficiency advancements. There has been little sign of a change all year. Finlay was also correct in his view that headline-grabbing record efficiency gains are a very popular read but the reality is that a headline touting a company achieving a US$0.01 per watt saving in a given quarter is not.

PV-Tech’s own contributing editor Felicity Carus secured the 9th position in the blogging ranks this year with a very timely piece regarding the battle between the two US presidential candidates. Felicity covered several aspects of the battle in her blogs but her analysis of Mitt Romney’s renewable energy credentials won through.

Another mid-year guest blog from Finlay Colville was ranked at number 8. This time Finlay covered the potential impact of preliminary US Department of Commerce import duties on Chinese made solar cells. The solar trade war has been one of the dominant themes of 2012 and Finlay’s focus highlighted the important role Taiwanese cell producers could have in aiding Chinese module producers in keeping their dominant market share position in the booming US PV market.

Staying with NPD Solarbuzz but another analyst at the firm, Ray Lian’s guest blog on projections that Yingli Green would overtake Suntech as the number one module manufacturer was the 7th most popular contribution. The writing was on the wall after both companies reported first quarter financial results and the prediction has since proved correct.

In 6th position was a guest blog from Charles Wright and Bret Starr that exposed what they considered to be the real costs behind the rapidly expanding US business model of solar leasing. This controversial subject was dealt with in detail and provided many with a greater understanding of the issues. Since the guest blog was published at the beginning of August the leasing business had continued to gain momentum and is seen as the key driver of residential PV installations in the US. SunPower recently hinted that it would look at bringing the leasing model to selected European markets, while SolarCity recently made a successful IPO on the back of the business model.

A guest blog only recently posted by Finlay Colville is in 5th place. Posted at the very end of November, it provides an update on NPD Solarbuzz’s PV market forecast. The sobering news epitomises the struggles the PV industry has faced all year in respect to overcapacity and high expectations of growth to tackle the problem. This is surely a key issue for next year as well.

Only two weeks later, Finlay contributed another guest blog that looked at the way the industry could get back on track by focusing on technology advancements. Giving various examples such as Japan against the backdrop of protectionism in the US and potentially in the EU the guest blog obviously struck a huge cord with readers and is the 4th most popular blog of 2012.

The 3rd ranked blog echoes readers’ perennial liking for lists. Published in January, NPD Solarbuzz provided its analysis on the top 10 solar cell manufacturers of 2011, initially produced within its PV Equipment Quarterly Report. However, the guest blog also highlighted that cost reduction would be a key feature this year, compared to the virtues of gigawatts of manufacturing capacity, previously touted.

At number 2, Finlay Colville tackles the PV industry’s technology roadmap conundrum. Unlike the semiconductor industry that has worked with an industry-wide accepted roadmap for decades, the PV industry, despite the best efforts of organisations such as SEMI, has failed to do so. The blog highlights that tier 1 manufacturers dictate the roadmap and due to cautious deployment have slowed a technology buy cycle that is impacting equipment suppliers up and down the supply chain. Recent confirmation of this was the news that GT Advanced Technology would pull out of the DSS furnace market, despite being the market leader due to lack of capacity and technology upgrades.

Finally, at number 1 we reach the most viewed blog of 2012 and surprisingly it is not written by a Solarbuzz analyst. Instead it is from Sam Wilkinson of former IMS Research, now part of IHS. Sam’s guest blog on the critical subject of pricing was a follow up from a guest blog in 2010 that covered the same issue.

The pricing issue – specifically the continued ASP declines – has seriously impacted the industry both in 2011 and 2012. Though recent reports suggest ASP declines will soften next year, structural overcapacity remains a major issue and therefore so will the pricing environment. As in the past we have always asked the winner of the most popular blog to readdress the topic, which in this case will be the second time of asking.

Listed below are the blog headlines and links to the Top 10 blogs in ranking order:

1. PV module costs and prices: what is really happening now?

2. What is the real PV technology roadmap?

3. NPD Solarbuzz: Top 10 PV cell producers in 2011

4. Can technology rescue the PV industry?

5. PV demand in 2012 below 30GW? A sobering tonic as the industry goes to rehab

6. The true costs of solar leasing

7. Yingli Green poised to become the no.1 PV module supplier for 2012

8. Sundown on the union as PV cells come from Taiwan

9. Mitt Romney reveals his own internal solar power struggles

10. High efficiency grabs the headlines, but cost reduction remains the priority

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