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PV Industry Turns Corner, Starts Growing Again: Report

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The photovoltaic industry has taken a hit this year, shrinking in size compared with 2008 as a result of the economic crisis, tight credit markets and changes in Spain’s generous incentive policy. The good news is that the PV industry has now passed through its first “cycle” and signs are mounting that it’s growing once again, according to analysis published today by market researcher DisplaySearch.

“Other than Spain, we’re seeing demand growing across the board, regionally speaking,” Paul Semenza, senior vice president at DisplaySearch, told us. The market is starting to pick up as a result of lower PV prices, a diversifying demand base and growing incentive programs in some regions, and “many leading [solar cell] producers” are now turning a profit, DisplaySearch said in a statement. The research firm forecasts global solar cell demand will grow 38 percent in 2010 to 7.1 GW compared with this year’s total demand of 5.1 GW and a 14 percent contraction. By 2013, the global solar market could reach 26 GW.

Some companies are now running their factories at high utilization — rather than letting their equipment remain idle as they did earlier in the year — and moving forward with expansion plans, the market research firm said. Japan’s Showa Shell Solar is expected to start construction next year on a 900 MW, thin-film factory, and Sharp has reiterated its plans to expand its 480 MW thin-film line in Sakai by early 2010.

If the PV industry really has turned the corner, it hasn’t come without a lot of pain. This year solar cell manufacturing capacity grew more than 50 percent to reach a 17 GW capacity, leading to a dramatic oversupply (as much as 60 percent, according to DisplaySearch). With the market awash in solar cells, PV system prices plunged more than 25 percent, and in the first half of this year, “most solar cell manufacturers” were losing money, the research firm said. Many responded by shuttering older production lines or delaying ramp-up and new investments. Global leader Q-Cells (s QCE), for example, said it was shutting down four of its less-productive lines in Germany while slowing the ramp-up of new Malaysian lines. Many solar startups have also suffered, such as North East, Md.-based Blue Square Energy, which turned to solar systems integration earlier this year to stay afloat.

But DisplaySearch is predicting that by 2013, solar cell manufacturers will likely need to start adding more capacity in order to keep up with forecast demand. The industry, in other words, could go from oversupply to undersupply in about four years. In the meantime, however, many industry players would be happy just to see their existing production lines humming at full capacity.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux.