The solar industry cranked it up a gear in 2015, which has been reflected in the end of year financial reports for the industrys biggest players. This was certainly the case for the worlds fourth largest solar module producer, JA Solar, which enjoyed solid growth across the board. The company seems confident that demand will continue to grow, with plans to expand its total manufacturing capacity to 2.0 GW for wafers, 5.5 GW for cells, and 5.5 GW for modules by the end of 2016.
As to be expected with the level of growth that the industry as a whole enjoyed, JA Solars yearly shipments experienced a steady rise, totaling approximately 4.0GW. Interestingly, 53.5MW of its shipments were sent to its own downstream projects, highlighting the companys downstream ambitions. Excluding the shipments to its own projects, there was a 28.8% rise from 3.1GW external shipments in 2014.
This translated into large revenue growth of 19.7% over the course year, with total revenue of $2.1 BN, up from $1.7 BN in 2014. Net income in this time period rose 38% to $94.9 million compared to $69.0 million in 2014. The Chinese companys revenue grew sequentially throughout the year, as it generated Net revenue of $709.3 million during the fourth quarter 2015, which was a rise of 20.3% from the third quarter 2015.
The real test would be to see whether this growth could be translated into high operating profit and gross margin, both of which saw significant increases in 2015. The operating profit for the year rose to $133.5 million from $102.3 million in 2014, while the yearly gross margin was 17.0%, up from 15.6% in 2014. However, this growth was not paralleled sequentially, as operating profit of $40.2 million and a gross margin of 17.1% for Q4, were both down from Q3 results. This was a result of rising operating expenses due to provision of receivables and impairment of certain project assets.
We exceeded our operating and financial objectives with shipment and revenue. We fulfilled strong demand across Asia, especially in China, but also made meaningful advances in North America, said Chief Executive Officer Baofang Jin.
To build upon the years success, JA Solar plans to increase its manufacturing capacity. This shows that the company is envisioning an increase in demand for their products in 2016, which is reflected in its shipment forecast. JA Solar has forecasted shipments to grow at least 30% to between 5.2 GW and 5.5 GW. This is even an increase from the November estimate of 5.0 GW. To start the year off, it is expecting Q1 2016 shipments to total between 1 to 1.1 GW.
Our outlook for 2016 is bright, continued Jin. We expect growth of over 30%, as countries around the world continue to encourage the growth of clean, renewable energy. We are able to capture this market growth due to our industry-leading reputation for quality and value. We intend to aggressively protect that reputation through our ongoing investment in research and marketing.