Germany's solar shakes

Just a few years ago, German manufacturers were dominant in the solar PV sector but with bankruptcies now coming thick and fast, is 'Made in Germany' solar on its last legs?

Just five years ago, German cell manufacturing was considered the gold standard of the PV industry. However, following a raft of insolvencies and changes in corporate strategies, the landscape of cell manufacturing in Germany has changed considerably. The days of companies using ‘Made in Germany’ as a promotional aid seem to be coming to an abrupt end.

To fully understand the ‘Made in Germany’ slogan, we need to rewind back to 2008. At that time, one in five c‑Si modules that shipped globally were comprised of cells that had been manufactured in Germany. As such, the marketing departments of German-based c-Si producers were proudly displaying ‘Made in Germany’ as a label of quality and reliability. Country-of-manufacturing-origin had evolved into a powerful means of branding and a label to assist end-user financing and bankability.

Back in 2008, German c-Si manufacturers Q-Cells, Schott Solar, Ersol (now Bosch Solar) and SolarWorld occupied leading positions in the top-20 PV cell suppliers. In 2012, none of these manufacturers are expected to feature in the top-20 PV cell suppliers to the industry.

The PV industry has been fundamentally restructured during the past 18 months. For many, adjusting cost structures or strategies to adapt to these changes has simply proved unworkable. And among many of the casualties during this ‘shakeout’ phase, c-Si cell manufacturing in Germany has been particularly hard hit.

The degree to which German cell manufacturing has been decimated over the past 18 months is illustrated clearly in the figure below, with considerable c-Si cell capacity having come offline (due in part to insolvencies or realigning business models to downstream/EPC activities) from early 2011.

Indeed, by the first quarter of 2013, only 1-2 per cent of all c-Si modules shipped globally are forecast to contain c-Si cells manufactured in Germany. Therefore, any PV manufacturer still using the phrase ‘Made in Germany’ may need to review ‘what’ part of the PV module is actually manufactured domestically.

It is difficult to see any short-term scenario in which c-Si cell (or wafer) manufacturing in Germany can be cost-competitive with the new Asia market-leaders. Indeed, this appears to be backed up by the apparent ‘silence’ from the European PV manufacturing community in offering any public support to a possible ‘anti-dumping’ action being filed in Europe today.

Source: Solarbuzz PV Equipment Quarterly.

This article was originally published by SolarBuzz. Republished with permission.

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