17 June 2009, by Mark Osborne
The meteoric rise of cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaics module manufacturer, First Solar, Inc. is set to continue in 2009, according to Paula Mints, Principal Analyst at Navigant Consulting. In a presentation at the Solar Economics Forum held in London this week by GreenPower Conferences, Mints noted that First Solar could become the largest PV module producer in the world in 2009, surpassing the likes of Suntech and Sharp. On a solar megawatts-produced basis, First Solar is also expected to surpass Q-Cells for the first time, making it the world’s largest PV producer. Mints noted that CdTe thin-film production had achieved a CAGR of 193% between 2003 and 2008, with First Solar responsible for virtually all CdTe thin-film production.
“As everyone knows, 2009 is a depressed market. I wouldn’t be surprised if First Solar isn’t number 1 or number 2 in 2009”, commented Mints. “They are very aggressive, are vertically integrated in the U.S. and no-one can beat them when they are vertically integrated.”
Currently, First Solar has the lowest cost-per-watt of US$1.00, which was achieved in the fourth quarter of 2008. However, Mints noted that First Solar’s climb to the top may be short-lived!
The market researcher believes that conventional c-Si PV manufacturers will recover from 2010 onwards as the market returns to growth, especially in 2011. As the dominant technology by a wide margin, leading c-Si manufacturers such as Q-Cells, Sharp and Suntech could once again overtake First Solar in megawatt shipments.
Mints also noted that c-Si production costs had greater scope to be lowered than thin-film technologies that were in volume production. As polysilicon is a key cost, lower prices have a significant impact on competiveness. Thin-film technologies are also limited in their ability to raise conversion efficiencies, further hampering their ability to gain considerable market share over c-Si.