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PV Solar Growth

Solar Growth

As can be seen from the chart at the left (updated in July, 2015) 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.

Data from 2010 and 2011 is from Solarbuzz. The data for 2012 and 2013 is from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). The forecasts for 2014 and 2015 are by the author.

The 5 year average growth rate from 2010 (19.6 GW) to 2015 (55.0 GW) is 23% per year - a very nice growth rate. The reason for the growth rate of only 9% in 2012 was due to major reductions of solar incentives in Italy and Germany. The growth in 2013 was 28% and 2014 was 17%, which averages out to be 22.5% for the two years (about the same as the 5 year average). The 2013 growth spurt of 28% was due mainly to increases in China, Japan and the US which have continued.

The growth for 2014 is estimated to be 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. In 2015 China is expected to grow about 13% to 12 GW - by far the largest yearly installation ever. After 2015, the long term growth estimates are about 20% per year. While the overall five year growth rate is impressive, the 45 giga-watts installed in 2014 was just a fraction of one percent of the total amount of electricity that was being generated by all sources worldwide.

Solar Growth

There was about 184 GW of cumulative PV solar installed in the world at the end of 2014 (see the chart to the left). By 2012 the 100 GW milestone was passed. The 200 GW milestone will most likely be passed in 2015.

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.

Where solar makes a big difference is during the time of day when electricity is needed most, 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
 China 3.5 11.0 10.6
 Japan 2.0 6.9 9.7
 United States 3.4 4.8 6.2
 Germany 7.6 3.3 1.9
 Italy 3.8 1.4 0.5
 UK 0.9 1.5 2.3
 India 1.0 1.1 0.6
 Australia 0.8 0.7 0.9
 France 1.1 0.6 0.9
 ROTW 6.0 6.4 11.4
 Total Market 30.1 38.4 45.0

The chart at the left, megawatts of PV solar installed by country, shows that Germany had historically 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 is on target to meet its goals, they have reduced their solar incentives prompting their installations to peak in 2012 and fall off dramatically in 2013 and 2014. The same thing occurred in Italy from 2012 to 2014. In 2013 China, who has about 65% of the world's manufacturing capacity, began to focus on its own internal needs for clean power and dramatically increased its solar power in 2013 and 2014. 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.

Feed-in-tariffs. 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.

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.

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 pretty long time, thus encouraging as large a system as possible on a roof top.

As can be seen above, the US has been previously 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 expires in 2016 (a 10 year program). In addition, there are 14 US States and the District of Columbia that regulate retail electricity markets in which customers may choose "alternative" power suppliers. Some 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 and Arizona whereby the amount of solar electricity "sold back" to the utility at purchase prices can not exceed the customer's annual electricity usage at purchase costs. In addition, California and Arizona, have several extremely large utility type solar installations in progress.   Top

Overcapacity Issues

Between 2007 and 2011 the solar industry grew at 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, those companies that were able to dramatically increase capacity 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 rates, 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 almost 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. Approximately 25 GW of silicone cells were sold, leaving 6 GW of excess crystalline inventory which was 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 $20 to $25 at the end, about a 70% 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 GW worth. The main reason crystalline silicon "cell" prices dropped so much 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. Most analysts believe solar cell and module capacity will be 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 the 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. However, prices of some components like polysilicon, wafers and solar cells have been edging up since the beginning of 2013. 2014 proved to be a profitable year for the companies that survived the 2011 and 2012 glut of product.  Top

Market Share Forecast By Region

Thin Film Market Share

Germany has over whelmingly dominated the worldwide solar markets the last 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 2014 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.

However, thin film panels are not as efficient as 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 30 percent more space (and land) to achieve the same total power output as a premium crystalline installation. Thin film is strongest in the utility scale market because the cost of panels outweighs the cost of land in this market. Sharp and a few other manufacturers are trying to make "thin film silicon" a success in the utility market.  

Chinese suppliers using 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 module producers in 2014, seven were Chinese using crystalline silicon. The dramatic drop in silicon module prices from 2011 to 2014 has almost closed the cost gap between silicon and cadmium telluride.  Top

2014 Top Solar PV "Module" Manufacturers Worldwide

Listed below are the top ten PV "module" manufacturers for 2014. Companies are ranked by megawatts shipped, not revenue. Trina Solar is number one on the top 10 list, up from number two last year (+1 in year over year change). Yingli Green Energy dropped from number one to number two. First Solar dropped to number nine from number seven last year. Seven of the top 10 module producers are Chinese and during 2014 well over 50% of all solar panels shipped were manufactured in China. (Note that Canadian Solar has a 500 MW manufacturing plant in Canada.) 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 Solar "Module" Manufacturers - 2014

Rank Company Technology Y/Y Chg.
1  Trina Solar, China c-Si +1
2  Yingli Green, China c-Si -1
3  Canadian Solar, China c-Si 0
4  Hanwha Solar, China a-Si, c-Si +6
5  Jinko Solar, China c-Si 0
6  JA Solar, China c-Si +3
7  Sharp, Japan c-Si, Thin Film Si -3
8  ReneSola, China c-Si -2
9  First Solar, USA CdTe -2
10  Kyocera, Japan c-Si -1
      c-Si = Crystalline Silicon,  a-Si = Amorphous Silicon,          CdTe = Cadmium Telluride

Source: IHS


US PV Market Growth

US Solar Growth

Shown at the left are the recent annual solar installations in the US. Note that at the end of 2014 installations totaled 6,200 MW, a 31% increase over 4,750 in 2013. In 2015 the US market is expected to be about 8,000 MW, a 29% increase. The previous 5 year average annual growth rate from 2009 to 2014 was 70%.

The three largest annual state solar markets (by MW) in 2014 were California with 3,549 MW, North Carolina with 307 MW, and Nevada with 339 MW. Cumulatively, California has the most installed by a very large margin, followed by Arizona and New Jersey.

US solar installations have grown dramatically the last few years as utilities have come on strong. Up until recently, utility installations have 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 in 2010.

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 solar power to grow.

A 100 MW to 250 MW 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.