Utility scale solar set to take off, pv magazine learns

When asked if the photovoltaics (PV) industry can expect to see any significant changes taking place, Meikle stated: “Well the big question that everyone has talked about is grid parity. What happens at grid parity? I think one big new trend is utility scale solar. First Solar [for example] installed 33 megawatts (MW) of utility scale solar in 2009 in the U.S., in 2011 they plan to install 500 to 700 MW of utility scale solar in North America and in the following year, it’s likely to be one to 1.5 gigawatts (GW).”

In line with other key industry figure opinions, such as Michael T. Eckhart, president of the American Council of Renewable Energy (ACORE), Meikle also believes the U.S. is set to take off in terms of PV. He told pv magazine: “…the big change we’re going to see in 2011/2012 is the U.S. is really going to take off as a market.” He went on to explain that the country saw around 450 MW of installed capacity last year. Renewable Analytics, he said, expects this to grow to 800 MW this year and 1.5 GW next year. “… and we think it’s going to be significantly higher the following year,” he added.

However, Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for iSuppli Deutschland GmbH told pv magazine he sees other countries in Europe gaining more market share than the U.S. “I fully agree the U.S. market is growing and has strong potential, but we really have to put it down into figures to compare,” he explained. “And I don’t see the U.S. market reaching six GW in the next three years. We will see that happen in Italy.” He went on to say: “We [iSuppli] expect the market size in Germany to be reduced from 2012 on. We see Italy and France being the next big countries, followed by the U.S, Japan and China.”

Meanwhile, Meikle has suggested to pv magazine that module manufacturers need to be more proactive in their pricing strategies. He said: “As an analyst, I would suggest to the module manufacturers to be proactive in reducing pricing more aggressively so that you can bring the pricing down to the level where it is going to stabilize, rather than bringing it down slowly, slowly each month.” He explained that in doing this, the module manufacturers will be able to stabilize prices, which will in turn encourage people to order their products earlier in the year, thus helping to create a larger market.

He additionally believes module makers will continue to move downstream. He said that following 2008, where a handful of industry players like Q Cells, Solon and SunPower began to move downstream, bigger players are now beginning to follow suit, like First Solar. He said: “First Solar is the largest solar manufacturer in the world and they’re moving downstream and I think that the Chinese players and the Asian manufacturers are going to follow their example.”

He added that companies are beginning to realize that the gross profit margin is 20 – 30 percent for modules and that if a company builds an entire project, it can capture a lot of profit margin downstream. “So we are going to see module manufacturers entering the market from China, start to buy project pipelines in the U.S., I believe. And they’re going to buy shovel ready projects – they’re going to buy land that’s been developed, that has transmission, interconnection, permits so that they can build projects, move the modules, keep people employed in China,” he concluded.