Hard times for German PV equipment providers

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German PV production equipment manufacturers saw a 4% fall in sales in the final three months of last year to seal a 19% retreat in 2019, according to German engineering association the Verbandes Deutsches Maschinenbau Anlagen (VDMA).

An encouraging start to last year had long since faded with order intake falling by half in the October-to-December period, compared with the fourth quarter of 2018, as the first effects of what would become the Covid-19 pandemic were felt at the end of the year.

“Although the photovoltaic industry is used to fluctuations from the past few years, it does not look as if PV equipment manufacturers will be able to recover from this slump in the near future, due to the current situation with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic,” stated the VDMA.

Exports

A record 97% of German solar manufacturing equipment was exported last year, with more than 90% of shipments heading to Asia. Thin film products accounted for 53% of sales with cell production lines supplying 43%.

Although the coronavirus pandemic is expected to prompt a collapse in Asian orders for solar equipment this year, a related determination by other markets to wean themselves off a dependency on Far Eastern solar panels could offer Covid-19-related opportunities, according to Peter Fath, chairman of the VDMA’s photovoltaic equipment production equipment board.

“Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, German PV engineering has seen a significant increase in inquiries for the global construction of solar factories,” said Fath. “Domestic production, to break the dependency on China, is a worldwide trend and offers excellent export opportunities for our PV machinery manufacturing.”

Fath also mentioned recent plans voiced by Norwegian solar panel maker REC Group and Swiss solar production equipment company Meyer Burger to re-establish gigawatt scale solar manufacturing in Europe. He added, the VDMA is involved in the push to repatriate solar production.