German equipment suppliers report ‘strong’ bookings for cell, thin film segments


2018 has proven to be a much improved year for German solar production equipment suppliers. The German Engineering Association’s Photovoltaic Equipment section (Verbandes Deutsches Maschinenbau Anlagen, or VDMA) has reported a 41% increase in orders in the first three quarters of 2018. At the end of Q3, VDMA’s solar members were reporting a book-to-bill ratio of 0.7, down from 1 in Q2.

PV cell production equipment suppliers accounted for the bulk of the orders, with 48%, however that was closely followed by thin film suppliers (47%).

Not surprisingly, East Asia, presumably China, remains the major marketplace for German production tooling – with 77% of sales, followed by Europe (10%) and Germany (9%).

The dependence on supplying Chinese manufacturers continues to leave German equipment makers exposed to the vagaries of China’s domestic solar policy. The VDMA reports that the 31/5 policy shift, which saw a dramatic readjustment of solar subsidies, has impacted on orders. However, VDMA PV board chairman Peter Fath notes that “planned investments in further production” from Chinese manufacturers were delayed rather than cancelled outright as a result of the 31/5 measures.

It should be noted that recent reports from China show a softening of the 31/5 measures and an expansion of the Top Runner tender rounds has delivered a considerably more optimistic outlook for 2019 than was at first envisaged.

“The future expansion plans of the PV industry in Asia suggest that orders will remain unchanged,” said Fath in a statement. “Investments in high-efficiency solar cell concepts will shift slightly as a result of the Chinese government’s so-called “531” [or 31/5] announcement to limit photovoltaic expansion in China. In this context, the Indian government’s program to build new production capacities is particularly noteworthy.”

The expansion of thin film manufacturing capacity, primarily CIGS, has continued to favor German equipment suppliers throughout 2018. However, there have been reports that here too the 31/5 may have had an impact. Some reports to pv magazine are that the implementation of new CIGS lines, such as those supplied by Manz, were delayed in 2018 but are likely to progress in 2019.

Some German manufacturing tool suppliers active in the thin film segment, such as Von Ardenne, would be less effected by 31/5 as they continue to supply First Solar’s capacity expansions in the U.S. and Southeast Asia – along with the CdTe producer’s shift to its large format Series 6 module.

The VDMA reports that in Q3 solar equipment bookings fell by 50% from Q2, as the result of the 31/5 policy. Accordingly, the share of orders from European and German customers in the quarter increased to 11%, and the Americas 10%.

“The order books are still full,” said the Division Manager of VDMA PV Production Equipment Jutta Trube in a statement. “The [31/5] announcement from Beijing was intended to promote sustainable development in the solar energy sector and improve development quality. Both are strengths of German equipment manufacturers.”

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