Global polysilicon market on course for 15% increase

Global sales of polysilicon will rise by more than 15% in 2014 to top $6 billion worldwide as surging demand from China and Japan fuels the market, say researchers from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

If realized, the forecast would see the market eclipse previous highs of three years ago, when a price war in 2011 created the biggest ever boom in polysilicon production. Since a global downturn in 2012, prices of polysilicon are on the rise again, with industry leaders GCL-Poly of China, and Germany’s Wacker Chemie AG each expanding their production capabilities in anticipation of heightened demand.

"We are seeing a massive recovery in the entire solar industry, also in polysilicon," said IHS solar analyst, Stefan de Haan. "2013 was the year of the turnaround, and the situation will further improve in 2014." The analyst believes that utilization rates at polysilicon factories will be at their highest for two years after a period of enforced idle capacity caused by the global market depression.

According to BNEF, the market’s rebound is being driven by demand in China and Japan. Of the estimated 44 GW of PV capacity set to be installed around the world this year, close to half will come from these two Asian countries, say the analysts.

"Japan has a fantastic subsidy that is fuelling a domestic boom, and there is significant demand and government support for new projects in China," said BNEF lead solar analyst Jenny Chase, alluding to Japan’s generous FIT scheme that, despite a recent regression, is still one of the most attractive incentive schemes in the world. "The entire polysilicon industry will benefit from these booms."

Price corrections

The average price for polysilicon plunged by some 42% in 2012 and struggled all the way through 2013, increasing only from November. This year, the price could climb as high as $25 a kilogram, after hitting $21.75 a kilogram in late April. This would represent a 10% increase, said de Haan, who also predicts that revenue for suppliers will rise by 33% to $5 billion.

In the wake of China’s introduction of tough import tariffs on South Korean and U.S.-made polysilicon in January, European suppliers could reap the benefits. Currently, more than half of the polysilicon used by Chinese solar companies comes from overseas. Although European companies are subject to duties of between 14.3% and 42%, these handicaps pale into comparison when put against U.S. companies, which must endure a 57% anti-dumping charge. OCI Co., the largest South Korean polysilicon producer, remains rather happy with its 2.4% tariff, and should see its revenues increase dramatically in 2014.

Markets have responded positively to the renewed profitability in polysilicon, with China’s GCL-Poly enjoying a share price increase of 48% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (SEHK) in the past 12 months. For Germany’s Wacker, share price has also risen by 43%, while OCI has enjoyed a 28% increase.

And as confidence returns, the demand surge is cascading down the value chain. BNEF has revealed that the number of Chinese companies producing polysilicon now stands at 15 – which is more than double last year. However, there is still some way to go until the market is able to match the peak levels of 2010, when more than 100 companies manufactured the material.