Times are hard for the machinery and equipment suppliers of the solar industry. Yet amid the gloom, many industry experts see better days are in the horizon. "After the winter comes the autumn," commented one expert at this years EU-PVSEC exhibition in Paris.
Such optimism was in evidence at Heraus, who announced a 30% increase in their market share for silver pastes. Such pastes enable cell manufacturers to print the contact fingers and bus bars directly on to their solar cells. Because the consumer market is inextricably linked to cell production, the company was privy to the actual figures of the market, and were positively confident as a result.
According to Carsten Mohr, Head of the Business Unit Solar in Europe, cell production in 2013 has risen by about 20%. Early forecasts predict a further 20% increase next year. Additonally, Multi-Contact a large scale producer of connectors reported robust sales this year, according to Eric Ast, the companys market development manager for photovoltaics. If a connector company is doing well, it means that its clients must also be acting with confidence within the market place, which has positive repercussions for the wider industry.
Nevertheless, according to other assembled experts at the show, the picture is not so rosy for the machinery industry. Machinery providers have barely sold any machines this year, they report. And not because the capacity utilization would have been low: it has largely been because many cell producers purchased their machinery before the markets contraction, and so already had the required hardware in place.
This sounds plausible. How the market will grow over the next 12 months strongly depends on results from Japan. Whether a growth directly leads to immediate or gradual relief throughout the machinery sector is, however, debatable. "Machinery producers tried to keep their produce as high quality as possible. But next year this will become more difficult," said analyst Götz Fischbeck, CEO of Smart Solar Consulting.
EU PVSEC ends
EU PVSEC ends today. In the trade fair plan, only about 250 exhibitors are listed significantly fewer than last year. Such a slump, especially when compared to the booming years pre-2011, is huge. Whether a slight pickup in the market will change the current trend seems doubtful, because the market for machinery and component providers has shifted to Asia.
The conference is not affected by this development. Also, the overall demeanor of many visitors was reassuringly positive. Even if fewer companies exhibit, many relevant, important and interested people are still working with diligence and creativity throughout the industry, and many of those faces were evident at the show.