Solar Cell Manufacturing Capacity to Surge 56% in 2009 Despite Shrinking Demand, Says DisplaySearch

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“Despite PV module demand shrinking 17% in 2009, so much cell manufacturing equipment was ordered and installed over the past year that capacity is still expected to grow 56% this year,” said Charles Annis, DisplaySearch vice president of Manufacturing Research and author of the report. “With demand and capacity moving in different directions, the PV industry is currently experiencing an enormous over-supply that is causing rapid price erosion and potentially setting the stage for the failure of multiple cell manufacturers, particularly companies pursuing a-Si thin film solar cells. The PV industry will begin working through this excess capacity as demand recovers next year and takes off in 2011 and beyond.”

The research firm predicts that China will lead in cell capacity in the future. Through 2006, Japan had the largest solar cell production capacity in the world. However, Chinese companies started to ramp up a host of new facilities in 2005 and by 2007 had more solar cell capacity on line than any other country. China has continued to invest heavily in production facilities, which accounts for about a third of the worldwide cell capacity in 2009.

Of the 3.58GW of thin film capacity available in 2009, more than 30% use 600 x 1200mm glass substrates, the standard cadmium telluride (CdTe) glass size used by First Solar. Gen 5-equivalent substrates, ranging from 1000 x 1200 to 1100 x1400mm, are the second most common glass size, used for 18% of available thin film capacity.

Between January 2008 and July 2009, approximately 11.4GW of new solar cell capacity was installed in fabs around the world. These previous investment commitments are the reason that capacity is continuing to grow 56% in 2009 despite falling demand.

In 2005, 95% of solar cell manufacturing capacity was for crystalline silicon solar cells and 5% for thin film solar cells. In 2009, thin film will account for more than 20% of capacity. By 2013, thin film technologies are forecast to account for as much as 30% of solar cell capacity.

For amorphous silicon (a-Si) factories, in 2009 the four largest turnkey equipment vendors are AMAT, Oerlikon ULVAC and EPV, representing 946MW of ramped capacity or more than 50% of a-Si capacity on-line this year.

In terms of capacity available for production in 2009, First Solar is the largest solar cell manufacturer with more than 1GW of capacity. Q-Cells and Suntech are not far behind and essentially tied for second place. These and other current leading PV cell manufacturers are forecast to invest at the highest rates over the next four years. By 2013, these three companies plus JA Solar, Motech, REC, SunPower, Yingli, Showa Shell Solar (assuming it moves forward with a planned 1GW CIGS fab), and Sharp are forecast to be the top 10 makers, with more than 16GW or 38% of 2013 capacity.

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