Global solar PV cell production booming

PV panel production also increased by 41% over 2008 to 8.9 GW. The bulk of these panels ended up being deployed in Germany in the third and fourth quarters of 2009, said GTM Research, with the threat of upcoming subsidy cuts and steep declines in panel prices driving an unprecedented installation volume of 1.3 GW in the last quarter of the year.

The "bumper result" masks the reality of 2009 being the most challenging year for PV suppliers in recent memory.

"On one hand, you had severe oversupply and drastic price drops causing large losses, major layoffs, and consolidation all across the value chain," explained GTM Research senior analyst Shyam Mehta. "On the other hand, it was yet another record-breaking year in manufacturing thanks to Germany’s late surge: whereas in January, top manufacturers were reportedly running at factory utilizations of less than 20%, October through December saw the same companies’ supplies being completely sold out. To call it a volatile year would be an understatement."

Fifty percent of the cells produced in 2009 came from China and Taiwan; this is a "far cry" from just five years ago, continued GTM Research, when European and Japanese firms combined to make up over three-fourths of the market. Crystalline silicon still dominates the PV technology landscape with a cell and panel production share of 81 percent and 78 percent, respectively. At the same time, thin film market share in 2009 continued to increase, from 15 percent of panels produced in 2008 to 22 percent in 2009, and for the first time ever, a thin film producer (cadmium telluride-based First Solar) claimed the title as the largest cell/panel manufacturer.