Second place was taken by JA Solar, with Hanwha Q-Cells and Trina Solar joint third. The top ten was rounded out by six other Chinese players: Longi, Canadian Solar, Risen Energy, GCL-Si, Suntech, Chint – which includes Astronergy – and Talesun.
According to the PV Info Link database, the total delivery volume of modules declined in the third quarter after the Chinese government’s announcement at the end of May that it would slow PV installations and reduce solar subsidies. The ten largest manufacturers nevertheless had a good utilization rate, the analysts said, with figures above the industry average for the quarter.
Following a rebound in demand – in China and globally – in the fourth quarter, the top 10 manufacturers are expected to have again achieved utilization rates of more than 90%, and in some cases record quarterly shipments. Overall, according to PV Info Link data – which in some cases differs from companies’ published figures – the ‘Big Ten’ delivered 66 GW of panels last year, thereby meeting just under 70% of global demand of 91.5 GW.
The analysts said solar manufacturers were able to further increase sales despite the political u-turn from Beijing, thanks to a focus on foreign markets and to product improvements. In the first half of the year especially, many manufacturers upgraded cell production to PERC technology. The leading ten companies in particular, aggressively expanded new module technology capacities and by the end of 2018, the top ten had a PERC cell capacity of 30 GW and half-cell module capacity of 15 GW.
Outlook for 2019
For the first quarter of this year, PV Info Link expects further strong demand. A weakening market is expected for the first half overall, but the industry will pick up significantly in the second half, thanks to rising demand from China, Europe and the USA.
The weakest demand will be recorded after the Chinese new year – in early February – with prices falling along the entire value chain. In the second half, however, rising demand – helped by declining solar subsidies in various countries – could see a rebound in module prices, albeit a muted one not as strong as that seen in other parts of the value chain.
That, say the analysts, will lead module manufacturers to develop new technologies including large-wafer products, half-cell modules, multi-busbar, shingle and bifacial offerings. In that scenario, manufacturers will want to tighten cost efficiency and widen the gap from conventional modules to boost profits.
This year, PV Info Link is predicting 112 GW of new solar capacity will be installed – a rise of 20 GW on last year’s figure – and the market share of the ten largest PV manufacturers will stay around 70%. Monocrystalline solar modules will account for almost 60% of total sales and PV Info Link expects sales of special modules to increase.