With trade wars continuing across the globe, it is worth examining the PV supply picture at two different points: the quarter in which the first of the trade investigations began and the end of the current year. The figure below shows these points in Q4’11 and Q4’14, highlighting snapshots of the crystalline silicon (c-Si) PV production chain. The figure focuses on c-Si PV as it regularly accounts for more than 90% of solar PV production and almost all trade investigations thus far have excluded thin-film PV components.
In Q4’11, it was clear that China was already the largest supplier of c-Si components in the PV industry, particularly in the mid-stream wafer, cell, and module segments. However, Europe was still driving the majority of end-market demand. This imbalance, and the pressure it put on non-Chinese producers, particularly in Europe, was the catalyst for many of the trade investigations. Non-Chinese manufacturers, facing an industry exposed to overcapacity and rapidly falling prices, were fighting for survival and trade complaints were one of the tools used to try and recover market share.
Judging solely by the current industry snapshot, this method can be judged unsuccessful, as Chinese producers have increased production shares in the ingot/wafer and module segments. And while Chinese c-Si cell shares dropped somewhat, almost the entire decline in Chinese share of c-Si PV cells was captured by Taiwanese manufacturers, a result largely driven by the 2012 US trade investigation.
The other significant change was the rapid rise in the Chinese end-market. China is now the world’s largest driver of downstream PV demand and is consuming a significant portion of its own domestic supply. China is now the only major single-country market in the world that can supply itself entirely from domestically produced content.
While the overall supply/demand balance will change quarter-to-quarter, these two snapshots give an idea of how the industry has changed over the past three years and the effect, or lack thereof, of trade investigations on upstream production shares.
Crystalline Silicon Production Chain Shares by Region
*includes c-Si and TF