TBEA SunOasis poised to overtake First Solar in global EPC field

First Solar installed 1.1 GW of PV last year, meeting expectations and solidifying its position as the leading engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company in the global photovoltaic industry.

Yet the Arizona-based company looks set to lose the top spot to China’s TBEA SunOasis in 2014. With up to 1.5 GW of installations in China this year, TBEA has the potential to soar past leading PV integrators according to the IHS report IHS PV EPC and Project Market Tracker.

Published by IHS’s Power & Energy service, the report found that First Solar remains centered on North America after a strong year of installing 22% of the non-residential PV capacity in the U.S. and Canada.

First Solar’s large-scale projects in the U.S. will make up around 93% of an anticipated 1.3 GW of additions in 2014, IHS adds, pointing out that these projects were acquired in early-stage development and are now being constructed and sold primarily under the U.S. investment tax credit scheme.

However, First Solar is building up a global project pipeline through acquisitions and joint ventures in an effort to mitigate the risk of depending on one market, the report adds. The company claims to have pipelines of 1 GW each in Latin America and the Middle East.

"After 2015, depending on the evolution of solar support in the U.S., First Solar risks slowed-down growth in terms of PV system integration," explains senior IHS analyst Josefin Berg. "The development pipeline in emerging countries gives a good start, but will be much more challenging to pursue than the U.S. projects."

TBEA, meanwhile, is thriving on the rapidly growing domestic market, installing 1 GW in 2013 – 10% of China’s non-residential PV additions. In 2014, the power equipment manufacturing group will continue growing its PV systems business, with expected additions to reach as high as 1.5 GW.

While focusing on utility-scale opportunities in China, TBEA is also involved in power projects in markets such as Pakistan, where it has announced the construction of a 100 MW PV plant in 2014 and 2015. "TBEA’s global reach as a power equipment provider opens up possibilities for EPC contracts in new PV markets," Berg adds. "Yet, as the domestic market will grow by 31% this year, TBEA is set to keep the systems business growth focused on China."

Global PV project pipeline at 140 GW and growing

According to the IHS Global PV Project Database, which consists of nearly 30,000 projects, the global PV pipeline has now reached 140 GW — an increase of 5 GW since February. Of those 140 GW, 21 GW are either under construction or have signed power purchase agreements (PPA). The remainder of projects are at various levels of planning.

“It is obvious that a large chunk of these pipeline projects will never be built,” explains Berg. “Developers have to compete for PPAs, grid access, permits, and, not least, financing. What is important is that we can spot in which countries that PV deployment can take off quickly given the right conditions.”

With 34 GW of announced projects in planning and 5 GW under construction, North America boasts the largest PV pipeline. This is due to both a large number of projects and the size of the projects proposed. The average size of the projects in the database is over 25 MW and more than 80 projects 100 MW or larger are in development. Latin America has the largest pipeline of PV projects in comparison to its installed capacity with nearly 15 GW of projects in development, including over 4 GW in Brazil and 7.5 GW in Chile.

The IHS Global PV Project Database currently includes more than 29,000 non-residential PV projects across the world totalling 175 GW, including projects that are either under development, under construction or completed.

pv magazine will present its Top 10 ranking of global EPC companies in the upcoming June issue.