Asian Manufacturing Market Expansion Helps PV Equipment Suppliers


Ambitious PV manufacturing capacity investments across the Asia Pacific region during 2011 have provided substantial revenue growth for local PV equipment suppliers, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz PV Equipment Quarterly report.

Beneficiaries of these record investments include Japanese wire-saw producer Komatsu-NTC and an emerging group of Chinese tool suppliers that includes (Fujian) Apollo, 48th Research Institute (CETC-48), (Zhejiang) Jinggong, and Jingyuntong (JYT). Collectively, these four Chinese companies have posted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) metric in excess of 200% for PV-specific equipment revenues covering the period from 2008 to 2011.

Applied Materials is forecast to retain the top spot as leading PV equipment supplier by recognized revenues, according to NPD Solarbuzz. The company's crystalline silicon (c-Si)-specific PV revenues for 2011 are forecast to grow by more than 60%, as process tools for wafer and back-end cell production were widely implemented throughout all geographic regions and tier categories.

Many European equipment suppliers with a strong track record within the PV industry – such as Centrotherm, Meyer Burger, Schmid, RENA, Amtech-Tempress and DEK Solar – are also forecast to post record PV tool revenues for 2011.

These numbers are contrasted with other European suppliers that have seen their PV market share eroded by the new Chinese competition. Consolidated PV revenues of Roth & Rau, Manz, ALD-Vacuum and PVA-TePla for 2011 are estimated to have been less than 50% of this grouping's PV share in 2008.

Investment in turnkey amorphous silicon lines – mainly from China – ensured continued revenue streams for Oerlikon and Apollo during 2011. Although many thin-film investments are driven by unpredictable market-entry aspirations, this segment still offers attractive – but erratic – bookings potential for tool suppliers, according to the report.

‘The euphoria of announcing record revenues for 2011 is countered by the realization that much of the tooling shipped last year was stimulated by highly ambitious capacity expansion plans that were not underpinned by market demand,’ says Finlay Colville, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz.

‘Overcapacity reached chronic proportions across the c-Si value chain during 2011, and only stronger than anticipated end-market demand in 2012 will mitigate a painful and severe equipment spending downturn,’ he adds.

Equipment suppliers at risk of year-over-year revenue declines in the 60% to 70% range for 2012 are those most exposed to the c-Si ingot-to-module stages. Only GT Advanced Technologies, with strong market share in polysilicon and downstream PV equipment (characterized by different spending cycles), is retaining healthy revenue guidance during and beyond 2012, according to the report.

Market share is determined using three-quarter rolling averages of PV-specific revenues recognized (rev-rec) across any given trailing 12-month period. The analysis incorporates NPD Solarbuzz PV rev-rec estimates for each supplier to March 31, 2012.

Looking ahead
NPD Solarbuzz says that excessive PV equipment that was shipped during 2011 is now contributing to a misleading (nameplate) capacity figure at the 50 GW level. However, many production lines are now shuttered, idled, awaiting tool installation, running at utilization rates below 50%, or simply not capable of meeting downstream requirements on cost or efficiency.

As a result, annualized, effective (or commercial), ramped capacity is closer to 30 GW, the company says.

With tier-one (and selected tier-two) manufacturers now dominating, the short-term goal now shifted from adding more capacity to cash preservation and repairing damaged balance sheets during 2012. The rebound in equipment spending that will ultimately be driven by these manufacturers is, therefore, on hold until there is sufficient confidence that end-market demand will exceed the 30 GW mark.

In the meantime, PV equipment suppliers are eagerly searching for technology buys that will both soften the revenue declines during 2012 and give a clear indication of the process tool types to be prioritized from 2013.

Changes in the c-Si equipment road map point firmly to an increase in high-efficiency cell variants, with over 75% of capacity added during 2012 capable of producing panels with efficiency gains of 0.5% or more, compared to industry averages through 2011.

‘The strategic planning for PV equipment suppliers is now shifting to 2013 and beyond, with limited prospects for revenue upside in 2012,’ says Colville. ‘Success will be provided to those suppliers that can align product portfolios with equipment process chains that are economic in the new low-cost PV manufacturing environment.’

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