VLSI Research: photovoltaic equipment sales topped US$4.4 billion in 2008

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Specialist market research firm, VLSI Research has said that the photovoltaic cell & module manufacturing equipment market, which it includes the thin film equipment sector, reached US$4.4 billion in sales in 2008 as the solar industry continued to expand and add new manufacturing capacity. The equipment market was also boosted by the emergence of various thin-film technologies that entered production for the first time in 2008, enabling suppliers to record new revenue streams.

However, John West, VLSI Research’s Europe Managing Director, cautioned that growth in the market would slow down in 2009, projecting growth of 8% compared to 2008, reaching approximately US$4.75 billion in sales.

The cautionary note was due to an expected decline in conventional c-Si cell equipment sales in 2009 as overcapacity and tight financial markets curtail expansion plans. West noted that there was a halt to capacity expansions in 2009 as PV cell and module manufacturers absorbed several years of aggressive capacity expansions.

Indeed, the largest module manufacturer, Suntech has virtually halted new capacity expansion as the company expects its 2008 capacity levels of 1GW would be sufficient to meet demand in 2009.

“The underlying fundamentals of this market are strong and that this is a temporary
situation exacerbated by the global economic crisis,” commented West. “2009 will be a period of consolidation for the market.”

Overall growth in 2009 is expected to come from the continued roll-out of thin-film manufacturing due in part to the equipment lead-times and large order backlogs held by thin-film equipment suppliers.

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