German PV equipment suppliers export 99% of their products

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German mechanical engineering association the VDMA – Verband Deutscher Maschinen und Anlagenbau – today published figures related to the country’s PV equipment suppliers and their performance in the first quarter.

The numbers paint a picture of recovery after a difficult end to 2018. Sales were 14% higher than the association’s expectation but still 14% lower than in the first quarter of last year. Compared with the last three months of 2018, however, incoming orders rose 21%.

Cell and thin film

Equipment for thin film production continued to represent the highest performing segment and was responsible for 62% of sales for German suppliers. Although thin film technology represents less than 10% of solar manufacturing, several major expansions are under way in Asia and German suppliers are yet to see much in the way of competition in this market.

Equipment for cell production made up the rest of sales for the quarter, taking up 37% of orders as module and wafer manufacturing equipment each accounted for less than 1%.

“Besides the significant growth in thin film photovoltaics as the segment with the highest sales, the PERC and heterojunction technologies are particularly important,” said Peter Fath, managing director of RCT Solutions GmbH and chairman of VDMA Photovoltaic Equipment.

Shifting sands

Almost 99% of German made PV production equipment was exported in Q1, a record level and a 13% increase on the same period of last year. “Companies lack sales in their important home market,” said Jutta Trube, head of VDMA Photovoltaic Equipment. “This could be remedied by cell and module production in Germany. According to a study commissioned by the VDMA, this is economically possible in Germany under certain circumstances.”

Asia continued to be the main destination for equipment exports, with 80% of shipments ending up there. China continued to import the lion’s share of equipment – with 43% of sales – but elsewhere on the continent there was evidence of a shifting market.

Around 31% of orders came from Vietnam, with the Southeast Asian nation overtaking Taiwan as the second largest market. Formerly a leading hub for cell technology, Taiwan has struggled to keep up with the cost structures and economies of scale achieved on the Chinese mainland in recent years, and few expansions are expected there. Vietnam, meanwhile, has exploded into an important PV market and has proved an attractive base for suppliers looking to establish a manufacturing base outside China.

Equipment orders from America fell 19% from the previous quarter but Europe saw a 9.2% increase in sales, a figure the VDMA expects to grow by a further 6.3% despite weak demand from the German suppliers’ domestic market.