Solar Equipment Companies
Saw a massive increase in revenues and profits as Asian companies led by the Chinese built a huge amount of solar cell, wafer and panel capacity. Despite a huge increase in demand in 2011, this capacity glut led to a crash in prices throughout the solar chain resulting in bankruptcies of some of the biggest solar panel companies like Q-Cells, Solyndra etc. Western companies were the worst affected as they lacked government support unlike the Chinese. Besides some of the solar behemoths, a large number of solar companies continue to go bust. Dresden based Solarwatt recently went into court, protected bankruptcy, unable to sustain itself.
Solar equipment companies are now feeling the heat as almost every company has stopped expanding capacity and there exists a large number of companies willing to sell almost new equipment for pennies to the dollar. Centrotherm which was the second largest seller of solar equipment with revenues of more than $800 million is facing a credit crunch. The company’s bank are refusing to renew credit lines or give it shipment finance. Hyundai had earlier bought solar cell equipment from Centrotherm as far back as 2008. Hyundai Solar Panel & Solar Cell factory, the largest South Korean manufacturer is 600 MW unit.
The whole solar industry is in turmoil with bankruptcies rampant, so it is logical for banks to stay away. Germany has installed more than 50% of the world’s solar capacity and which has in many ways been the reason for the current success of solar energy. Now the country is seeing most of its domestic manufacturers wither away as the gravity shifts towards Asia and America both from the manufacturing and demand point of view. Oerlikon which for the last few years was trying to make a success of selling amorphous silicon thin film equipment too sold its division. Note Applied Materials had long ago given up its thin film equipment manufacturing. Oerlikon was persisting despite losses but it too has raised its hand given the abysmal level of solar panel pricing.
The First Wave of Thin Film Bankruptcies
- Applied Materials is perhaps the biggest loser with the management all but giving up on its Thin Film Equipment Division (SunFab). This turnkey technology has failed to keep up with the decline in costs and improvement in Technology. With most of its customers already writing off their investments, AMAT too has reduced support to SunFab.
- Oerlikon Solar like AMAT had bet its future on supplying a-Si Thin Film Equipment to customers and was giving Applied Materials tough competition. However the falling poly prices have resulted in sharp order cuts for Oerlikon and the survival of its thin film division too is in doubt.
- Q-Cells has written off its investments in 2 of its thin film divisions -Calyxo (CdTe) and Sunfilm (aSi).Only Solibro (CIGS) division has survived the major restructuring of Q-Cells which saw a multi-billion dollar loss in 2009 and resignation of its CEO.
- Suntech a-Si Division which was set up in Shanghai with a SunFab equipment from Applied Materials has been written off according to the management and will be retooled to manufacture high efficiency c-Si cells.
- Moser Baer was one of the first customers of Applied Materials SunFab Line. However the company had problems in ramping up its line. Recent results do not inspire any confidence in the success of its thin film venture.
- Signet Solar was one of the best known a-Si startups with a strong management team. However like other SunFab customers it is too facing a bleak future with recent news of cancellation of its expansion plans.
- Sanyo had set up a JV with Nippon Oil with grandiose plans to manufacture a-Si panels with a planned 1 GW capacity by2015. This JV Sanyo Eneos too is deferring its expansion plans with the cost/efficiency metrics not being competitive against c-Si modules.
- Masdar PV the Abu Dhabi backed Renewable Energy company is facing problems with it its thin film business, recently firing top executives at its German thin film division.
Suntech announced that it would cut off funding for CSG Solar a German maker of thin film solar panels which it bought a few years ago. Expect a huge second wave of thin film shutdowns to start as silicon panel prices have come down to as low as $1.3/watt.
Energy Conversion Devices which in 2008 boasted of almost $3 billion in capitalization is being priced for bankruptcy as its share price has plummeted by 98%. The only thin film players who could survive are Solar Frontier (Backed by Big Parents like Shell and Showa) and Sharp. It remains tough for small standalone companies like Miasole, Nanosolar to survive the current competition.