The signs of life returning to the PV industry at the end of 2013 built momentum through 2014 as end-market demand in a growing number of regions and countries developed.
Although the downstream sector dominated for the third successive year, critically the upstream solar cell and PV module manufacturing sector started a recovery that is expected to see continued capacity expansions and technology migrations that are expected to restore business to the materials and equipment segment of the upstream market.
Importantly, pricing stability throughout the supply chain indicated strongly that supply and demand dynamics were better aligned than in the last few years, with consolidation, exits and bankruptcies continuing while end market demand continued to increase.
A key trend from 2013 that continued through 2014 was the growing focus on PV module manufacturers’ business model migration to become ‘PV energy providers’ (PVEPs).
PV Tech traffic
Website traffic to the most popular industry website did not see any material growth over record levels set in 2013 when visitor traffic topped the two million mark.
However, Google Analytics highlighted once again the growing readership from emerging markets around the globe and visitors from 229 countries in the year and mirrors the truly global reach that the PV industry has been able to achieve in the last few years.
Increased traffic from emerging markets once again offset the decline in traffic from European countries such as Germany and France, despite visitors from Germany accounting for over 30% of traffic in 2014.
Countries such as China, Japan, India and Taiwan accounted for higher visitor percentages and all were within the top 10 countries visiting the website in 2014.
Top 10 news stories
In our regular annual review of the Top 10 news stories in any given year, it is not unusual to find several stories that sum up some of the key developments and strong topics that resurface throughout the year. However, on the flip-side they can be fairly random and that has been a theme in the 2014 top stories.
At number 10 is the story by John Parnell tapping into the views of the former founder of SunEdison, Jigar Shah. In a piece entitled, ‘US will be world’s largest solar market by 2016, says Jigar Shah’, the entrepreneur was interviewed ahead of the Next Generation Solar PV Finance event in New York in September, organised by PV Tech’s publisher Solar Media. Shah has figured in many articles over the year, not least in his role as spokesperson for The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which has gone head to head with SolarWorld over the US anti-dumping case.
The story that made the rankings didn’t echo that long-running saga (a subject not represented in the top 10 stories of 2014); rather it was on topic of the continued expansion of the US PV market, which was certainly a theme throughout the year.
The ninth most popular story was related to energy storage and from our in-house ‘Batman’, Andy Colthorpe, responsible for much of the energy storage reporting from our dedicated PV Tech Storage website.
Entitled, ‘Former US energy secretary Chu: Utilities need to respond to 'disruptive' solar-plus-batteries’, the piece covered the growing view that battery storage technology in combination with PV across all market sectors could prove to be “as disruptive to electricity distribution and generation as the internet”.
This was written earlier in the year, but PV Tech readers’ interest in energy storage topics has grown significantly in 2014.
Only a few years ago, some of the most popular topics centred on thin-thin technologies and notably anything to do with First Solar. So it was good to see that the eighth most popular story covered in 2014 related to CIGS thin-film and that of Hanergy.
Entitled, 'Hanergy Solar to start building 3GW CIGS thin-film manufacturing complex in China', the piece by yours truly reported on the ambitiously announced expansion plans after the company had previously acquired four western CIGS thin-film producers.
John Parnell returns with the seventh most popular story which focuses on the introduction of the German ‘self consumption’ duty. The story, entitled ‘Germany approves solar self-consumption levy’, touched on what had been an ongoing issue that must be seen as a key contributor to the rapid decline in PV installations in Germany in 2014.
On a lighter note the football World Cup in Brazil proved very popular, with a story entitled 'World Cup stadium generates more solar power than 11 competing countries – report' from reporter Lucy Woods coming in at number six.
The story highlighted analysis that both reflects the globalisation of PV and also the market opportunities the industry has, even though its thought-provoking side was not lost on many people.
Restoring the norm and following another year of cell/module record efficiency stories that had intensified as the year progressed was the story entitled ‘Back contact HIT solar cell from Panasonic pushes efficiency record to 25.6%’ written by myself in April.
Record efficiency claims appeared throughout the year and indeed appeared all the way up to the end of 2014 so it is with interest that this particular record by Panasonic eclipsed all others.
At number four is a sobering story that thankfully is not a regular occurrence in the industry but notably captured a lot of traffic; entitled, 'Explosion at Mitsubishi polysilicon plant in Japan causes deaths', the headline speaks for itself.
The third most popular story is at the opposite end of the scale as it reports what we now see as a boom period for the industry. Entitled ‘Deutsche Bank hails second solar “gold rush”’ and written by myself from a research note issued by the well-known financial analyst, Vishal Shah, the story covered the analyst’s near-term end-market demand for the industry from the beginning of the year.
We go back to industry policy issues for the second most popular story, entitled ‘China cuts the cord on struggling solar manufacturers’, written by John Parnell.
In hindsight there has not been activity on this topic that has publicly surfaced since the piece was written in early January. Most ailing Chinese PV producers have continued ‘ailing’ throughout the year and in some cases M&As have indeed occurred, but the sense is that the cord is being repaired on the back of Chinese government policy to the domestic PV market.
That finally leads us to the most popular story on PV Tech in 2014 and it is fair to say its one of those oddball affairs were the story took on its own life coming from nowhere. Entitled ‘Solar beats natural gas in landmark US judicial ruling’, the piece was written by reporter Lucy Woods in January.
The story covers the landmark decision of a an administrative judge in the state of Minnesota that PV power plants were a better investment for the energy utility, Xcel Energy, than natural gas for electricity production.
The story actually ran and ran for some time according to Google Analytics and not surprisingly attracted a lot of attention from readers in the US and comments and links online.