12 June 2012
Two days before the largest solar trade show opens its doors, the solar business was already gathering in the International Congress Center in Munich for the 2012 edition of the Intersolar Europe conference. About 2,500 participants are expected who will listen to the presentations of some 400 speakers this week from 11 to 14 June. Conference topics include PV power plants, storage systems, grid integration, and global PV markets, among others.
In the opening session of the conference, Professor Dr. Eicke Weber, Director of ISE, gave a comprehensive overview of the trends in PV technology and pointed out that despite the fact that crystalline silicon PV manufacturing is already highly developed and has traveled the farthest along the learning curve of all PV technologies, the production methods have not yet exploited all potential improvement. This, according to Weber, is rather bad news for thin-film and all new production technologies, as classical thin-film as well as completely new PV technologies have to show lower prices or comparable efficiencies to become competitive. Instead, the highly efficient CPV technology will take up a rapidly increasing niche market, and successfully compete with CSP.
Addressing the dumping allegations against Chinese manufacturers, Weber said that creating market barriers will ultimately hurt the economies that adopt them by higher prices. Furthermore, his opinion on the case is that labour costs are not a major reason for cheaper module costs in Asia, but rather the newer and higher scaled production lines there, compared to the older ones in Europe.
A look at the market
In the market sessions, Gaetan Masson, Head of Business Intelligence at the European Photovoltaic industry Association (EPIA), pointed out that across Europe, market segmentation of RE is still clearly dominated by political decisions. He promoted a switch in thinking away from the “grid parity” thinking towards general evaluation of competitiveness. In this respect, Masson pointed out that since 2011 the module price experience curves changed from being linear, but goes further down both in crystalline silicon and thin-film. While this negatively influences profit margins of the manufacturers, it definitely makes a contribution to competitiveness in markets. However, additional costs that occur for grid integration – this includes both overproduction at peak levels and grid expansion – could delay competitiveness.
Ash Sharma from IMS Research gave an outlook on global market development in the coming years and firstly pointed out that, despite the troubles that many solar companies have undergone, the global installations in 2011 grew by 34% to 26.9GW, and five of the top 10 markets in the world still were in Europe. However, this will not remain, according to his forecast: The current leading position of Europe will evaporate from three quarters of installed PV capacity today to some 31% by 2016 to the favour of American and Asian countries. Here, India is seen as the most promising market for European manufacturers, since the country has low regulative market entry barriers and not many domestic manufacturers. However, Europe will also remain an interested market, but under changing conditions as it will fragment into more but smaller national markets at the expense of the leading countries such as Germany, Italy, and France.
Thus, companies should prepare for more mid-sized markets in the future, rather than a few big ones as there are now. As for 2012, he predicts that the global market will grow again by over 30GW of new installations, but due to the expected FiT reductions in Germany, Italy, and France, growth in these markets will contract. Regarding the supply chain of PV components, the markets for modules and inverters showed a completely different picture last year: While module production was entirely dominated by Asian manufacturers, the top 10 inverter companies all are European-based companies. Module prices of European and Chinese 2nd tier manufacturers seem to be slowly converging after all.
Written by Andreas Breyer, Senior Editor. Solar Novus Today
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