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Business | March 27, 2012

China dominates Top10 in solar cell production

Worldwide solar cell production growth flattens but still gigantic in 2011. Chinese companies dominate Top10, survey reveals.
Global PV cell production grew to an impressive 37.2 GW in 2011, according to a market survey by PHOTON International, for a 36-percent increase over the 27.4 GW produced in 2010.

But the annual survey also reveals a dramatic reduction in year-on-year growth. Compared to a record 120-percent jump in 2010, the 2011 cell output was the PV industry's lowest growth rate since a 34-percent increase in 2003. The survey also shows a continuation of Asian dominance, with six Chinese manufacturers in the top 10 - with Suntech Power in first place for the second year in a row - and two from Taiwan.

For the first time since PHOTON International began surveying solar cell producers, the top 10 did not include any solar cell producers from Europe or Japan. In 2008, only 33 percent of solar cells were made in China, a share that grew to an impressive over 57 percent in 2011.

The shift in cell manufacturing to Asia will get a further push as consolidation increased momentum in 2011, when demand - which the most optimistic analysts estimate was around 28 GW last year - could not catch up with supply. While consolidation has primarily hit Western companies so far, resulting in the first large bankruptcies and job cuts at many production plants, the strong decrease in product prices has affected companies across the board, including Asian cell manufacturers, even causing several of the smaller ones to stop production.

With many of the major markets preparing for cuts in their solar funding programs, the imbalance in supply and demand won't change in the short term. Cell producers are still predicting a combined production of around 52.5 GW in 2012 - a 41-percent growth year-on-year. Overall, they are planning to increase capacities by 19 percent to around 69 GW in 2012, after raising capacity by 57 percent to nearly 58 GW by the end of 2011.

Chinese cell manufacturers will continue to dominate in 2012, probably taking over the first five places in the rankings. The two Western companies - First Solar Inc. and SunPower Corp., both headquartered in the US - that are likely to remain in the top 10 not only will descend the ladder, both will produce the majority of their cells in Asia.

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