Search for the niche, next to gigawatt class

With this slogan, the superior power of the Asian cell and module manufacturers was sought to be defeated. The two-day forum highlighted how global competition is like in the PV industry. And thereby emerges the fact that the ten strongest cell and module manufacturers are almost exclusively Asian, namely Chinese.

They produce an annual capacity of at least one gigawatt, a field size at which European and US manufacturers can no longer play. Analysts like Henning Wicht from iSupply expect a global capacity expansion of more than 40 gigawatts in terms of module and cell capacities.

The global PV systems demand, however, is expected to be 21, only half as large.

This excess capacity will lead to further price pressures and price declines, to which most participants at the forum concurred.

The coin has two sides: with it the market comes back into full swing, the module price falls from the current approximate 1.60 euros per Watt to around one euro per Watt –and solar energy moves a step forward towards grid parity, as Wicht puts it. “Margins of module and cell manufacturers are always very small. They have little leeway to reduce short-term rates further,” Wicht adds. The result: a merciless competition that could see small manufacturers losing.

Whether with these cost pressures the quality also gets improved remained a question to be answered at the forum. With a strengthened cooperation, the 17 SEMI PV Group organized cell and module manufacturers and wafer suppliers are trying to conquer the balancing act between cost reduction and quality assurance, and match the wits of the Asian competition. With this, they presented a further developed “International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics (ITRPV)”.

Amongst other things, a significantly reduced polysilicon wafer thickness and thereby reduced costs is on the plate. However, it was also highlighted that there is the issue of micro cracks and need for sophisticated handling which in turn requires the appropriate machines and processes – and appropriate investments. Additionally, the cell, module and machine manufacturers are fighting the current issue of poor purity and quality of wafers, making the goal towards thinner wafers difficult.

Thus, a fine example of how things are going round in a circle and how challenging the magical roundabout argument between cost reduction and quality assurance in photovoltaics really is.