China upending solar tools industry

Some solar panel tool suppliers are being bolstered by solid growth and investments in the Asia Pacific region bucking the general trend of an industry slow-down and overcapacity problems. 

Equipment giant Applied Materials will be the biggest beneficiary in revenues. It is accompanied by a new string of Chinese tool suppliers, according to NPD Solarbuzz, including Apollo, 48th Research Institute, Jinggong and Jingyuntong. The lot of them are penned in for a compound annual growth rate over 200 percent in just the years between 2008 to 2011. 

While the Chinese players are doing well, many of their European counterparts have found their offerings upended by the relatively cheap competition. This will be offset by excellent expected photovoltaic tool revenues from some corners in 2011, with Centrotherm, Meyer Burger, Schmid, Amtech-Tempress, DEK-Solar and RENA likely to post record revenues.

There are suppliers who face yearly revenue declines going into 2012. They are mostly companies which have to deal with crystalline silicon ingot-to-module manufacturing stages, although GT Advanced Technologies is managing to fend off weakening market conditions and looks set to be strong throughout the year.

Overcapacity problems plagued the crystalline silicon supply chain throughout 2011, with the miracle of unanticipated demand surges at the end of 2012 the only hope for c-Si lines.

Excess inventories and overcapacity throughout 2011 means, says NPD Solarbuzz, that manufacturers are now trying to hold onto their dwindling reserves and keep the books balanced for 2012.

There will be more equipment spending in the future, but for now that is largely dependent on end-market demand. 

NPD Solarbuzz expects a shift in strategic planning for companies to claw back revenue in 2012. Senior analyst Finlay Colville says that success “will be provided to those suppliers that can align product portfolios with equipment process chains, that are economic in the new low cost PV manufacturing environment.”