As the German PV market continues to face serious challenges in 2014 and shrinks in size, suppliers are adjusting their distribution and sales methods, along with new product offerings, to continue to serve the market.
Trina Solar has reported that the power plant business has shrunk substantially and there is a clear shift towards higher efficiency products for residential and commercial applications.
While the European PV market remains one in which some Chinese c-Si module producers can continue to shift volume and make money, the marketplace has changed. This is certainly true of the former installation market leader Germany, where the PV markets annual installation volume has shrunk and where the major channel is now rooftops — driving suppliers to focus on more direct pathways to market.
The wholesale and distributor network for PV modules and components is one area where a distinct change has occurred, with some having fallen while others vastly reduced in size and scope.
"That presents more challenges because the typical method of distributing product into those channels is not there and there is considerable risk whenever we talk to new distributors do they have the strength to remain in the business?" explains Trina Solar President Europe Ben Hill. He adds that some of the big distributors have reduced in size by up to 70% following the market shifts. "Their value to the customer is still there, led by their credit and service offer.
Hill agreed that some suppliers had been burned by the wholesaler failures, but that Trina had been less affected than some other manufacturers.
"Due to our conservative financial approach it does mean that weve had to be more competitive in getting our products to the customers that want to buy them. Hill said that Trina’s installer partnership program has been valuable in maintaining pathways to market in the new landscape, although the program has been wound back somewhat.
"So far you see that in the testimonials from the installers, the products that were actually bringing in and selling to them, its not our standard product line — which normally goes into the bigger power plans. We are delivering more high efficiency mono modules and Trina Smart modules with integrated optimizers to installers," said Hill.
On the flip side, while it may require a different approach to serving the declining German market, Hill said that the rooftop sectors has by default higher margins than the supplying PV power plants.
"Ultimately its just a matter of how we get that product to those customers, smaller customers have higher cost to serve due to their scale. One of the steps we have taken to drive down the costs of service for installers is to offer online sales direct to installers now available in Germany and later this autumn in Italy, said Hill.
The U.K. boom
As is often the case in PV, as one market recedes another blossoms. The U.K. market has surprised many industry observers, and Hill, a Brit himself, said that Trina enjoys healthy market share in the island kingdom.
"The U.K., as you know, has been building up with the FIT and then with the ROCs for some years now. We have been very successful in building the large free field plants selling modules to customers and our own developments. Following the announcement of the new CfD budget for solar and other established technologies of £50 million for disbursement this autumn, there are many questions about how the U.K.s competitive landscape will evolve over the next year, said Hill.
Senior solar analyst with IHS Stefan de Haan said that Trina’s project business in the U.K. and Greece, but also in other parts of the world, is an important part of the company’s current strategy.
"Trina is targeting projects of 400 to 500 MW of projects globally in 2014 — it is active in Japan and the U.K. in addition to Greece and the U.S.," said de Haan. "This is a mixture that shapes up quite nicely at the moment."
IHS figures have Trina as the number one c-Si producer, in terms of volume shipped, in 2014. De Haan said that Trina is currently adding production capacity.
"Trina is expanding capacity in wafer, cells and an entire GW in modules, making it close to a 4 GW module producer by the end of 2014," said de Haan.
The July edition of pv magazine includes a ranking of the top 10 c-Si producers for 2013 and details of these suppliers 2014 capacity expansion plans.