A new NPD Solarbuzz Marketbuzz report anticipates that photovoltaic manufacturers will start to see a rebound in profitability—if they can make it to 2017. By then the research company anticipates that the PV manufacturing market will reach $32 billion.
But that’s still a couple years away, and prior to that Solarbuzz anticipates that the market will see a downturn through 2014. “Solar photovoltaic (PV) industry module revenues are forecast to decline 20 percent in 2013 to $20.5 billion from $25.5 billion in 2012,” according to SolarBuzz. However, from 2015 onward, the company anticipates that sales will start to rebound, reaching the highest level ever in 2017.
“Manufacturing overcapacity and declining revenues had a dramatic impact on the PV industry in 2012, and this trend will continue during 2013,” said NPD Senior Analyst Michael Barker. “Share values of several publicly listed PV companies have been falling close to delisting levels, operating losses have been reported in the hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter, and many manufacturers are continuing to file for insolvency,” he observed. Such filings include China’s PV giant Suntech, whose investors recently filed insolvency proceedings against the company when it was unable to pay on its due notes.
Suntech is joining an increasing number of companies that have filed for bankruptcy or have stopped manufacturing PV while the costs of PV modules have fallen below sustainable levels. Joining Suntech in 2013 Concentrator Optics has filed for bankruptcy, SoloPower out of Oregon announced it was shuttering manufacturing and Bosch said it was exiting the PV manufacturing business. Earlier this month Greentech Media issued an extensive list showing the bankruptcies and plant closures since solar really started heating up in 2009.
Part of the reason PV manufacturers continue to have problems is the continual oversupply in the market, which forced prices down further. “Confidence in the solar PV industry was severely damaged in 2012, as module average selling prices declined approximately 50 percent year-over-year, while end-market demand grew only 5 percent,” NPD said. “This mismatch placed extreme pressure on the solar PV manufacturing sector, which had expanded its capacity during 2010 and 2011 to potentially supply 45 GW to an end-market that reached only 29 GW in 2012.”
Now it looks like after a contracted period of oversupply, the market may rebound. The questions now is, when? “Predicting how and when the solar PV industry will rebound to profitability has now become essential for all industry participants,” Barker said. “Surviving the downturn phase of 2013 and 2014 remains the key objective for all solar PV manufacturers,” Barker noted.
Over that period, “Module suppliers with profitable business models will emerge as market leaders. In 2015, they can expect an industry that offers strong growth and revenue potential, which should restore confidence in the PV manufacturing sector and lead to further investments in new capacity and next-generation technologies.” This might include companies like First Solar, which reported higher-than-anticipated earnings projections for 2013 and beyond earlier this year.