Plummeting PV equipment revenues expected to recover in 2013

In its most recent PV Equipment Quarterly report, NPD Solarbuzz found that Q1 2012 revenues for photovoltaic equipment manufacturers dropped 27 percent on Q4 2011, and 51 percent on Q1 2011, to hit US$1.75 billion. Meanwhile, most leading equipment suppliers are forecast to see annual revenue declines of between 60 and 80 percent this year. Those that cater to markets other than photovoltaics will have the best survival chances, said the company, while those specifically focused on solar can expect to see further layoffs and negative operating margins.

VP Finlay Colville commented, "Supplier rankings are undergoing a transition phase in 2012, with significantly less revenues on offer to the PV equipment supply chain. The leading PV equipment suppliers during 2012 may be those able to recognize the most deferred revenues that were accumulated as PV backlog by the end of 2011, or those already secure as preferred suppliers to Tier 1 producers adding new capacity during 2012."

Upturn

An upturn is expected in 2013, following a shakeout of manufacturers and a bottoming-out of the CapEx downturn in Q2 2012. Specifically, said NPD Solarbuzz, equipment spending by Tier 1 manufacturers can expect "strong" double-digit annual growth rates until 2016. Furthermore, new order growth is expected to be seen in Q2 2012 as capacity expansion plans are revised. "This will be reflected in PV book-to-bill ratios that will return above parity during 2H’12," said the company in a statement released.

Colville further explained, "Capacity taken offline is just one reason why PV equipment suppliers are planning for future growth. Tier 1 manufacturers are also choosing to run existing production lines at reduced utilization rates during 2012, while increasing the level of outsourced wafers and cells. This is helping to restore a healthier supply-demand balance to the PV industry, thereby removing the underlying deterrent holding back the release of new CapEx."

The leaders

According to its figures, Meyer Burger is forecast to be the number one photovoltaic equipment supplier in the first half of 2012, thus knocking Applied Materials off its top spot for the first time in 14 quarters. "This ascendency is due in part to Meyer Burger consolidating a significant fraction of Roth & Rau’s 2011 PV revenues during 2H’11 and a very strong deferred backlog accumulated by the end of 2011," said NPD Solarbuzz.

Despite this, it said GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) is forecast to emerge as the top supplier on a revenue-recognized basis.