Taiwan’s Major Solar Cell Makers Grew Shipments in 2012


Overall shipments from the three companies, however, amounted to 763MW of cells, which was 32MW higher than shipments in Q3

December numbers were reported by Taiwanese companies recently, and it appears that overall results for three leading manufacturers of solar cells: Motech, Gintech and NSP, showed a decline in revenues by some 23% in Q4 in comparison to Q3.  Overall shipments from the three companies, however, amounted to 763MW of cells, which was 32MW higher than shipments in Q3.

Consolidated revenue for Motech Industries Inc. (6244.TWO) during 2012 is expected to be 50% lower than that earned in 2011. Neo Solar Power Corp.(TPE:3576) numbers are estimated to be 40%, while Gintech Energy Corporation (TPE:3514) is predicted to see revenue reduction in the area of 24%. While revenues dropped due to declining average selling prices, shipments had shown moderate to impressive growth, confirming that demand for solar products has been steady, despite the crisis in oversupply and overcapacity. 

During 2011, Motech shipped 1.1GW of cells. This number grew by almost 16% to 1274MW in 2012. NSP shipped 24.7% more cells in 2012 than in 2011, totalling 910MW. Gintech shipped over 1.06GW, which is a growth of 21.4% over the period of 2011. Despite those increases, categorical shipment figures remain modest for Taiwanese companies in contrast to their Chinese counterparts. Among the US-listed peer group, with the exception of Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:STP) , which guided reduced shipments in comparison to 2011, even beleaguered LDK Solar Co., Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:LDK) is estimating flat module sales in 2012. Moreover, there are notable exceptions.  Yingli Green Energy Hold. Co. Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE: YGE) must be the most impressive with guiding 2012 sales as a 37% increase; Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: CSIQ) is guiding also 14% growth.  Also newcomers to the arena of module selling, JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd. (ADR) (NASDAQ: JASO) and ReneSola Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE: SOL) are beating Taiwanese growth numbers.  During 2011 JA Solar sold around 426MW of solar modules.  For 2012 the company sees 902MW, which is a 111% increase. Renesola sold even less, only about 280MW in 2011. In 2012 the company is guiding sales over 600MW, up over 114%.  Those results have been accomplished irrespective of increasingly difficult trade conditions for the Chinese, with conclusion of the US tariffs on solar cells in November of 2012.

Nevertheless, Taiwanese companies – and not just solar cell makers – are anticipated to garner more growth in 2013, not only on the tails of the US tariff, but also due to both Chinese investigation into polysilicon imports and the EU investigation into all solar products.  Some industry sources speculate that the Taiwanese wafer industry may receive a boost when companies from China, seeking quality products, will OEM wafers by directing their poly shipments from suppliers to Taiwan to avoid tariffs.  While the EU investigation is not clear in outcome, and particularly in our view, Taiwan does not offer much as an alternative location for the Chinese, many see benefits for the industry participants there. Taiwanese companies are also benefitting with a dynamic market in Japan. Many OEM orders are sent to Taiwan from Japan to take advantage of lower processing costs.

Are there any advantages in technology offered by Taiwanese cell companies?

Gintech sells two types of cells. The Douro series includes mono and multicrystalline cells with ratings from 16.4% to 17.2% for two bus-bar cells and up to 17.6% for three bus-bar cells.  Monocrystalline cells range from 17.60 to 18.80% for three bus-bar cells and a bit lower to 18.6% for two bus bars. The Phoenix series, available in multi-color, offers a lot less efficiency ranging from 13 to about 16.2%.

Neo Solar Power (NSP) has a number of products: Classic, including Super 17, a multicrystalline cell with two bus-bars ranging between 16.4 and 17.2%; three bus-bar cell will reach 17.6%. Classic includes the Black19 mono cell with ranges between 18.4 and 19.4%. Super18 is a multicrystalline cell capable of reaching 18.4%, with three bus-bar architecture and acid-textured surface (as opposed to alkaline in other cells) with a silicon nitride AR coating. Perfect19 is a mono cell with an alkaline-textured surface reaching 19.2%, and then mono Black19 can reach as much as 19.4% conversion, to produce 260 to 270MW modules. Finally, the NeoMono cell has ratings from 17.2 to 18.6%, built on quasi-mono wafers having three bus-bars.

Motech XS156B3 monocrystalline cells range in efficiency from 18.1 to 18.9%; IM156 Multicrystalline I-Cells have 16.4 to 17.3% efficiency. IM156 Multicrystalline with code B3 has three bus-bars and also reaches up to 17.3% efficiency.

How does this compare to Chinese manufactures?  Hareon Solar Technology Co Ltd (SHA:600401) makes monocrystalline cells in the range of 17.2 to 18.8% efficiency. With the exception of NSP Black19 and Perfect 19, those cells have almost similar ratings. However, in the multicrystalline cell category, range is only up to 17% for Hareon. Quasi-mono cells produced by Hareon range between 17 and 17.4%, which is somewhat matching NSP’s NeoMono, but do not extend to the high-end efficiency despite three-bus architecture.

JA Solar JACM6SF-3 Cypress cells are capable of reaching ranges between 17.4 and 20% on the three bus-bar architecture. This appears to be the most efficiency for mono cells thus far. The JACP6RF-2 multicrystalline Cypress cell is providing ranges between 16 and 18% efficiency with two bus-bar structure. JACP6RF-3, having three bus-bars, is recommended for modules at 250MW.

Taiwanese solar products are known in China to have very good quality of finish, but there is no particular technological advantage offered by the Taiwanese industry over tier-1 companies. In fact, limited attempts from companies like JA, Yingli and Canadian, experimenting and in some cases producing MWT (metal-wrap-through) and N-type cells, seem to be ahead of mainstream tech available in Taiwan.  

Yet, according to Finlay Colville, VP of Solarbuzz, “Spending on high-efficiency process steps barely contributed to 2012 shipments, representing less than 5% of PV equipment spending.” This only confirms that for time being, technology is irrelevant to the future of Taiwan as a hub, in light of its trade-positive factors. Certainly, when it comes to the US market, Taiwan offers an instant solution for China, without technological upgrade.

However, Colville also notes that motivated by consolidation, Chinese companies will have capacity surplus; therefore, 2013 will have general lack of efficiency growth and lack of retooling needs.  Moreover, in an attempt to circumvent global tariffs, the Chinese will look to relocate existing manufacturing lines to local economies.

 If more companies will follow in the footsteps of China Sunergy Co Ltd (NASDAQ:CSUN) , which recently moved production lines to Turkey, in our view, Taiwan’s role will naturally once more diminish.

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