Top 10 module suppliers in 2017
Following an extensive research process over the past couple of weeks, we can now reveal the top-10 module suppliers (by shipment volumes) for the calendar year 2017.
The final listing - and the underlying numbers - confirms the trends of recent years and the continued dominance of our self-penned Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) group.
This article shows the relative rankings of the top 10 module suppliers, and discusses the implications in terms of 100GW-plus annual deployment, further trade-related barriers in 2018/2019, and whether we have reached a tipping point where having anything less than multi-GW levels of supply will soon become a thing of the past.
Defining the terminology
Module supply is based on shipment volumes, to both in-house projects and third-party sales. It includes modules manufactured in-house by the respective companies and product that is produced under supply arrangement by OEM/contract manufacturers and subsequently rebranded by the final module supplier/seller.
Supply is based on factory-gate shipment, independent of downstream inventory levels that routinely fluctuate these days on a country-by-country level, influenced by specific interconnection tariff adjustment deadlines and trade-case based timelines for importing.
The full analysis therefore requires much more understanding of company operations, the share of internal modules to project businesses (or pure play EPC work), and the levels to which, for example, companies in Southeast Asia have been utilized for non-Chinese based module assembly.
Compared to a few years ago also, fewer companies are reporting total module shipments, or failing to reveal how much third-party module supply is being used in downstream projects. This also requires a more traditional market-research effort, than simply reading off sporadic and unsubstantiated module data coming out from the companies at random times.
However, despite all this, the top-10 listing has become a relatively simple exercise this year, owing to the fairly significant gaps in shipments between the relative suppliers; any final adjustments at the ±200MW level that end up being reported in March filings are unlikely to make any difference to the rankings.
We have further cross-checked our data with a range of credible industry sources and believe that our listing represents the most accurate and correct picture of leading module supply volumes and rankings for 2017, despite the fact we are just two weeks into 2018 now. Any minor amendments will be discussed on PV-Tech, should they alter any of the data behind this feature.
The 2017 rankings
The top 10 list is shown below. Nine of the companies were top 10 suppliers in 2016, with Risen Energy the only new entrant in 2017.
The top 10 module suppliers shipped 57GW in 2017, with the seven SMSL players occupying the leading positions. Nine of the companies are Chinese-based operations.
Shown also are the seven companies we identified in the past 12-18 months as the companies that we expected to be in the 4GW+ annual shipment level during 2017, forming the exclusive grouping we named as the Silicon Module Super League (SMSL).
Our forecast, methodology and selection of companies (making up the SMSL) have proven 100% accurate in this respect.
Indeed, only the top seven companies shown (all SMSL members) shipped in excess of 4GW each during 2017. It begs the question of whether we do indeed need to set the GW marker higher next year for the SMSL, or increase the number of companies included. We will review this in the coming months as we forecast in greater detail what is likely to unfold for module supply during 2018.
The main reason we segmented the SMSL companies was done so we could analyse the tactics, technologies, cost, pricing, etc. for this specific grouping, as the benchmark for all the other module suppliers in the industry. The importance of this is likely to only increase during 2018 and beyond.
More China-centric than ever – so much for trade cases!
In 2017, the Chinese company contributions to the top 10 module suppliers ranking were greater than ever seen before in the PV industry. Nine of the 10 companies are Chinese run operations, with only Hanwha Q-CELLS offering any non-Chinese elements.
Hanwha of course made its meaningful entry into the PV industry a number of years ago by acquiring Solarfun (Chinese), prior to the acquisition of Q-CELLS, rebranding to Hanwha Q-CELLS, and subsequently setting up GW-based cell/module operations in China, Malaysia and South Korea.
The 90%-plus dominance then of Chinese run companies in the top 10 for 2017 should beg the obvious question: why? Or how, given we have trade cases impacting major overseas markets, such as Europe, the US, and (start/stop) within India.
There are two reasons to explain this.
First, most of the top 10 module suppliers have company-run operations in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam) or have OEM arrangements with China-financed operations in Vietnam. Alone, this overcomes both European and US legacy import restrictions.
However, the other major reason is the China market, and the fact that only Chinese module manufacturers play in this segment. When this one country is accounting for more than 50% of global module shipments, it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that multi-GW Chinese cell/module makers will be all over any global top 10 ranking for 2017 (and 2018).