The ongoing trade dispute between China and the U.S. continues to affect the manufacture of polysilicon used for solar photovoltaic modules in both countries – but not equally, according to IHS Inc. The research firm says that although strong demand in China is helping increase global solar polysilicon prices, U.S.-based manufacturers are not benefiting.
IHS says a rush to install projects in China before the deadline for feed-in tariff (FIT) levels of those projects on June 30 is the primary reason polysilicon prices are rising. In fact, before the Chinese New Year in February, polysilicon sold for just $12 per kilogram, on average; however, prices are now expected to rise to $19 per kilogram by April.
“Strong demand for polysilicon prices is triggered by the FIT deadline in China,” says Karl Melkonyan, solar supply chain analyst for IHS Technology. “Buyers cannot wait any longer to buy polysilicon for solar modules if they want to them produced and installed before the end of June. It is highly unlikely that polysilicon prices will continue increasing in the second half of the year, but a flat pricing outlook is certainly a possibility, if demand remains as high as previously forecast.”
According to IHS, U.S. polysilicon manufacturers have essentially lost access to China, which is the largest PV module-manufacturing base. This situation is causing severe financial distress for many U.S.-based companies, which cannot benefit from the strong polysilicon demand and recent price increase in China. Meanwhile, IHS says suppliers in Korea and other Asian countries have greatly benefited from their ability to increase market share in China and other markets. In fact, Korean polysilicon players now account for almost half of all imported polysilicon in China.
“Western manufacturers can no longer sell into China, which is leading to inventory over-supply and even causing some factories to close,” explains Jessica Jin, solar supply chain analyst for IHS Technology. “Although they are trying to sell polysilicon at bargain prices, there is low demand for purchasing silicon outside of China, because most wafer factories are located in China.”
Consolidation continues within the global polysilicon industry, according to IHS. Some important manufacturers have reduced their business scale, and only a few players have announced capacity expansion plans this year.
“Polysilicon inventories have reached critical levels, which is placing many U.S.-based polysilicon companies at risk; however, due to increased demand in China, OCI, Hanwha Chemical and other Korean suppliers have been able to reduce their inventory levels significantly,” says Jin.