Top Pic Solar Markets


World Wide PV Solar Growth

Solar Growth

As can be seen from the chart at the left (updated in June, 2016) the solar industry has seen remarkable growth. The red bars represent the "annual" amount of PV solar systems installed by manufacturers in giga-watts (1 GW = 1 billion watts). For reference purposes, one nuclear reactor produces about 1.3 GW of electricity per year.

The data for 2012 and 2013 is from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). The data for 2014 and 2015 is from Mercom Capital. The forecast for 2016 is from the author.

The 5 year average growth rate from 2012 (30.1 GW) to 2016 (68.0 GW) is about 22% per year - a nice growth rate. The growth in 2013 was 28% and 2014 was 17%, which averages out to be 22.5% for the two years (very close to the 5 year average). The growth in 2015 was also 28% and 2016 is projected to be 18% (slowing down somewhat as the numbers begin to get quite large). The 2013 and 2015 growth spurts of 28% were mainly due to increases in China, Japan and the US which have continued through out this period.

The growth for 2014 was only 17% because of sharp cutbacks in Germany and Italy. Also, China had no growth at all as they were consolidating their tremendous leap from the previous year. However, in 2015 China grew about 60% to 17.0 GW - by far the largest yearly installation ever. After 2016, the long term growth estimates are expected to be roughly 20% per year. While the overall four year growth rate is very impressive, the 68.0 giga-watts forecast in 2016 is just a fraction of one percent of the total worldwide amount of electricity that is being generated by all sources. However, in the US the 2016 percentage of solar generated electricity is forecast to be 2.8%.

Solar Growth

There was about 242 GW of cumulative PV solar installed worldwide at the end of 2015 (see the chart to the left). The 300 GW milestone will most likely be passed in 2016.

The installed PV base is roughly 20% residential rooftops, 20% commercial buildings like hotels and malls, and 60% utility plants connected to the grid. The utility market has really taken off in the last several years and is the market segment that has been the most influential in recent growth rates. The utility market is also the most cost efficient segment as material, land and labor costs can be spread over huge quantities.

When solar generated electricity makes a substantial contribution is during the time of day when lots of electricity is most needed, those hot summer afternoons when air conditioners are running almost constantly. This is when solar can add significant contributions to the grid at less cost than other sources. When you also throw in the pressure to go "green", you can see why the long term future for this industry is very good.  Top

PV Solar Installation By Country

 Country 2012 2013 2014 2015
 China 3.5 11.0 10.6 17.0
 Japan 2.0 6.9 9.7 9.5
 United States 3.4 4.8 6.2 8.0
 UK 0.9 1.5 2.0 3.0
 India 1.0 1.1 0.9 2.2
 Germany 7.6 3.3 2.0 1.9
 ROTW 11.7 9.8 13.6 16.2
 Total Market 30.1 38.4 45.0 57.8

The chart at the left, megawatts of PV solar installed by country, shows that Germany back in 2012 had been the leader in solar power. Germany has a goal to discontinue all nuclear power by the year 2022 and replace it with renewable resources. However, as the price of solar power has decreased and Germany was on target to meet its goals, they reduced their solar incentives prompting their installations to peak in 2012 and fall off dramatically in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The same thing occurred in Italy from 2012 to 2015 (not shown in the chart). In 2013 China, who has about 65% of the world's manufacturing capacity, began to focus on its own internal needs for clean power. It dramatically increased its solar power both in 2013 and 2015. China is now the world leader in PV solar and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. In the last several years, both Japan and the United States have also come on strong with significant installations.

As can be seen in the chart above, the US has previously been behind in installations. In 2006 the US implemented the Renewable Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which allows solar installations to apply 30% of the cost of design and installation as a federal tax credit with no maximum credit limit. The ITC was set to expire in 2016 (a 10 year program) but has been extended until 2021. In addition a “commence construction” rule was added, effectively extending the policy through 2023.

There are 14 US States and the District of Columbia that regulate retail electricity markets in which customers may choose "alternative" power suppliers. States, such as California and Arizona, have implemented their own aggressive incentive programs to encourage alternative power. A "net-metering" type of arrangement has been implemented by California, Arizona, and many other states, whereby solar electricity is "sold back" to the utility at the purchase price. However, the total annual amount sold back to utilities can not exceed the customer's annual electricity usage times the purchase price. In addition, California and Arizona, have several extremely large utility type solar installations in progress.


Germany's nuclear reduction goal prompted a government policy called feed-in-tariffs (FITs). A feed-in-tariff is a policy designed to encourage the adoption of renewable energy of all kinds to accelerate the reduction of the cost of renewables down to grid parity or less. FITs typically include three provisions: 1) guaranteed grid access, 2) a long term fixed purchase price contract (generally 20 years) for the electricity produced, and 3) declining contract prices for new installations that are based on the cost of renewable energy generation with a downward trend towards grid parity. Besides PV solar they include other technologies such as concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, and geothermal.

Other countries with major PV feed-in-tariff programs besides Germany are Japan and China. These countries will help take up the growth slack from Germany who has achieved their initial goals and will be further reducing incentives. A negative to the German type of FIT is that it encourages customers to install as large a solar system as possible, sometimes larger than the amount of electricity the customer consumes. With a guaranteed selling price for 20 years, a customer can make a nice return on their investment for a fairly long time, thus encouraging as large a system as possible on a roof top.

In almost all of Africa, Pakistan, Hawaii, Italy and large portions of Japan, the price of electricity is already in excess of what the cost of electricity is from solar. Therefore in these locations there is a ready market for today's solar electricity without any subsidies. As the price of solar electricity continues to come down every year, more and more locations will benefit from making the switch to solar when new capacity is added.  Top

Overcapacity Issues: 2011 to 2013

Between 2007 and 2011 the solar industry grew approximately 70% per year. In particular, from the major recession year of 2009 and the recovery year of 2010 the industry grew at an incredible 172%! Production was hard pressed to keep up with demand. As a result companies, that were able to, dramatically increased capacity and gained market share. No one wanted to be left out because of lack of capacity. So every company added capacity as fast as they could, thinking the industry growth would continue for the foreseeable future. In 2010 industry analysts warned that too much capacity was being brought on stream. But, the market was growing at double the analyst's forecasted growth rate, so the added capacity was easily absorbed. Producers felt they were smarter than the analysts.

Module Prices

In early 2011 capacity additions finally began to exceed demand. Prices of crystalline silicon solar cells began to tumble as companies, especially second and third tier companies, fought to reduce inventories that were piling up. In spite of the fact that the industry continued to grow at a 40% clip, there was so much inventory by the middle of the year that all prices - modules, cells, wafers and polysilicon - tumbled uncontrollably.

For example, wafer prices dropped about 70%, solar cells dropped about 60%, and modules dropped about 50%. GTM Research estimates that 31 GW of crystalline solar cells were produced. However, only about 25 GW of silicone cells were sold, leaving 6 GW of excess crystalline inventory, which was about 24% of the amount sold. Because of this glut, many smaller producers simply suspended manufacturing operations and one major company, Q-Cells of Germany, filed for bankruptcy. In the longer run the analysts were right.

Hardest hit were the polysilicon suppliers. Prices dropped from about $80/kg at the beginning of 2011 to about $20 at the end, a 75% drop. This happened because back in 2007 and 2008 there was a world wide polysilicon shortage and polysilicon prices increased to about $400/kg. Suppliers made a lot of money and added tons of capacity so that there was a huge polysilicon capacity overhang estimated to be 40 GWs.

The main reason crystalline silicon "cell" prices dropped by 60% in 2011 was because the raw material, polysilicon, which makes up a very significant part of the total cost, dropped so tremendously. While there was too much solar cell and module capacity, it was no where near as bad as polysilicon. Analysts believe solar cell and module capacity became reasonably in line during 2015, but the polysilicon glut may take several years to work off. As a result of falling prices while unit shipments increased, almost all companies in the solar industry were unprofitable from 2011 to 2013.

Those Chinese companies who have stock traded on American exchanges, and have to follow American accounting rules, have mainly lost money because of inventory write downs and other asset impairment write downs. Most of these are non-cash items on balance sheets. Actual cash flows were not as negative as profits. Some companies even continued to have a positive cash flow. 2014 proved to be a profitable year for the companies that survived the 2011 through 2013 glut of product.  Top

Market Share Forecast By Region

Thin Film Market Share

Germany has over whelmingly dominated the worldwide solar markets the previous few years. However, Germany has made the decision to "gradually" reduce their feed-in-tariffs (FITs) until the market price equals "grid parity". See the chart to the left. This is causing a "redistribution", but not a reduction in the total annual newly installed PV solar market. Italy also is reducing their FIT, but the rest of the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) is taking up the slack.

China, Japan, and the US are seeing dramatic growth. China produces more than half the world's supply of solar modules, so it intends to install a lot of solar locally. Japan has been hard hit by their nuclear disaster. Japan, like Germany, intends to phase out nuclear and replace it with renewable sources. As India becomes more modernized, it appears to be easier to install a lot of local solar rather than build fossil fuel plants with a lot of transmission lines. Solar prices in India are already close to grid parity. Beyond 2014, the long term growth estimates are expected to normalize and average about 20% per year.   Top

Market Share By Technology

Thin Film Market Share

As can be easily seen from the chart to the left, crystalline silicon dominates the solar market by a large margin. Thin film's share for all thin film technologies was only 10% in 2015 down from 18% in 2009 according to Solarbuzz. Crystalline Silicon's share has been rapidly increasing the last few years as Chinese manufacturers have come on strong. Thin film's market share is forecast to decline further to 7% by 2017 according to Solarbuzz.

The leader by far in thin film technology is First Solar whose cadmium telluride module manufacturing costs are somewhat less than those of most crystalline cell manufacturers. Crystalline wafers are about 200 microns (a micron = one millionth of a meter) thick. In contrast, thin-film panels are made by vacuum depositing several layers of semi-conductor materials only a few microns thick. Silicon in its pure form (99.9999% pure for solar applications) is very expensive and makes up about 20% to 25% of the cost of crystalline panels vs. the semiconductor cost of about 2% in thin film panels.

There are two types of crystalline silicon - mono-crystalline and multi-chrystalline. The efficiency of thin film and multi-chrystalline silicon are roughly about the same. However, thin film panels are currently not as efficient as mono-crystalline panels and therefore more thin film panels are required to generate the same amount of electricity. A thin film installation can take up to 25 percent more space (and land) to achieve the same total power output as a mono-crystalline installation. But, mono-crystalline panels are significantly more expensive than thin film. This makes thin film strongest in the utility scale market because the cost of panels outweighs the cost of land and labor in this market. First Solar, Sharp and a few other manufacturers are having success with "thin film" in the utility market.  

Chinese suppliers using multi-crystalline silicon have significantly reduced their costs and prices thus gaining market share. They operate on very thin margins and depend on large volumes to get their unit costs down. Of the ten top PV producers in 2015, seven were Chinese using crystalline silicon. The dramatic drop in silicon module prices from 2011 to 2015 has almost closed the cost gap between multi-chrystalline silicon and cadmium telluride.  Top

2015 Top 10 Solar PV Manufacturers Worldwide

Listed below are the top ten PV manufacturers for 2015. Companies are ranked by "megawatts shipped", not revenue. Trina Solar is number one on the top 10 list, the same as last year (a zero in year over year change). JA Solar climbed from number six to number two. First Solar climbed to number five from number nine. Seven of the top 10 PV producers are Chinese and during 2015 over 50% of all PV solar panels shipped were manufactured in China. (Note that Canadian Solar has a 500 MW manufacturing plant in Canada in addition to its main plant in China.)

There is a general trend for companies to vertically integrate, i.e. manufacture all three stages of production - wafers, cells, and modules. Wafer companies are moving into cells because they have a cost advantage using their own wafers. Pure cell manufacturers are moving into modules, which is basically low tech assembly, but it also gives them a low cost material advantage. Major players want to be totally integrated from wafers to modules and even end user sales and installation. Having an internal supply of material shields companies from the up and down swings of the spot markets and provides an opportunity to "brand" their products.


The 10 Largest PV Solar Manufacturers - 2015

Rank Company Technology Y/Y Chg.
1  Trina Solar, China c-Si 0
2  JA Solar, China c-Si +4
3  Hanwha Solar, China a-Si, c-Si +1
4  Canadian Solar, China c-Si -1
5  First Solar, USA CdTe +4
6  Jinko Solar, China c-Si -1
7  Yingli Green, China c-Si -5
8  Motech, Taiwan c-Si ++
9  Neo Solar, Taiwan c-Si ++
10  Shungfeng, China c-Si ++
       c-Si = Crystalline Silicon,  a-Si = Amorphous Silicon,           CdTe = Cadmium Telluride, ++ = Not on last year's top 10 list

Source: Renewable Energy World


US PV Market Growth

US Solar Growth

Shown at the left are the annual US PV solar installations in megawatts (MW). Note that at the end of 2015 installations totaled 8,000 MW, a 29% increase over 6,200 in 2014. In 2016 the US market is expected to grow to about 13,000 MW, a wapping 63% increase! The 5 year average annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015 was 55%.

The three largest cumulative state solar markets as of May, 2016 were California with 13,241 MW, Arizona with 2,303 MW, and North Carolina with 2,087 MW. California has been the most aggressive state and has by far the most installed solar.

US solar installations have grown dramatically the last few years as utilities have come on strong. Until about 2010, US utility installations had been weak compared to Germany, Italy or China due to the lack of support from the US Federal Government in the early 2000s . The planning and licensing for a very large utility installation takes a minimum of two to three years. So the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) tax incentive program passed in 2006 took a while to have an effect. Also, in recent years state governments added their support and those results began to show starting about 2012.

The 30% cash Treasury Grant Program (TGP) for renewable equipment was scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. This was renewed until the end of 2011 for the start of projects, but was not extended further. TGP grants supported 23,000 projects across the US and helped add more than 13,000 megawatts of wind and solar capacity to the grid. While this was not a long term funding program, it definitely helped to get solar power growing.

A 100 MW to 250 MW solar installation costs $1 billion to $2 billion dollars. Only the very largest banks and the US Government can afford to lend that kind of money to one customer. The Obama administration agreed to guarantee up to 75% of the cost of some of the proposed large new solar installations. This helped several large deals get off the ground. However, in order to satisfy the requirement that the loan would in fact be paid off, government due diligence significantly delayed quite a few projects. But by in large, the Obama loan guarantee program has been successful.