German PV equipment Q1 sales fall

Germany’s Association of Engineering, the VDMA or Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau, has said the photovoltaic supply industry is still suffering from weak investment activity in the wafer, cell and module manufacturing sectors. In particular, cell production equipment was said to be less in demand at the beginning of 2012.

However, while sales are on the decline, Germany still managed to claim an over 40 percent share of the international photovoltaic component, machinery and equipment market in Q1 2012. "This is primarily owed to continued innovation and a strong focus on cost efficient photovoltaic production," stated Florian Wessendorf, project manager of VDMA photovoltaic equipment. "The label ‘Made in Germany’ still stands for the highest standards of quality and cost-effective solutions," he added.

Shifting landscapes

As before, Asian customers were reported to be the "backbone" of generated sales in Q1. Despite this, their sale share dropped by 60 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

Particularly picking up the Asian slack is MENA (Middle East North Africa), with the majority of investments reportedly coming from this region in Q1. "In addition to the continuous improvement of production processes and the specific cost minimization, the strategic development of new markets is on the agenda for German photovoltaic equipment manufacturers. For photovoltaic production, the countries in the MENA region, India, Brazil and South Africa are interesting," stated Peter Fath, CTO of centrotherm photovoltaics AG and chairman of the board at VDMA photovoltaic equipment. "Nevertheless," he added, "the core business in Asia and … Europe cannot be neglected."

The various photovoltaic segments are also said to be shifting in importance. The VDMA reported that although equipment for the cell segment is still the leader with a share of 56 percent of sales, it has fallen from its past figures of around 70 percent. Meanwhile, over 18 percent of total sales accounted for polysilicon, ingot and wafer production, and the thin film and crystalline segments were said to have achieved a good 13 percent, respectively.

The VDMA went on to say that the situation has eased somewhat on the order side. Compared to Q4 2011, there was an increase of 21 percent in Q1 2012. Orders are said to be dominated by major individual projects, however, meaning that the order situation for German photovoltaic suppliers is very uneven.

Fath concluded on a positive note: "Despite the enormous current challenges for the industry, I am … confident. Currently, one must do his homework in order to solve the conflicts between the short-term market slowdown and long-term growth prospects."

In related news, and serving to highlight the somewhat dire situation, German photovoltaic equipment supplier, centrotherm, announced it had filed for Chapter 11 insolvency protection and self-administration, due to the current solar market situation.