Module price index: The scarcity of low-cost multicrystalline modules in the “mainstream” class, evident since the beginning of the year, continues. The Trump decision in the USA has not yet had any visible impact, such as increasing module volumes for the European market due to lower demand on the other side of the pond.
Apparently, many U.S. installers seem already to have taken higher module prices into account. The cost-saving potential of other components and services seems almost to compensate for module prices, which are up to 30% higher, and the high demand so far this year and for future deliveries seems to be holding steady.
For the domestic market this means that there will be no price changes, at least for modules in the mid-range performance classes. As demand picks up at the beginning of February, prices could even rise again in some cases if additional shipments for Europe do not become available. Although German and European manufacturers claim that they can supply products at full capacity, this is still a drop in the bucket, considering their limited production capacities. If cells and materials purchased in Asia become scarcer, the tide could turn rather quickly.
Interestingly, in contrast to other module categories, the price for high power modules has slipped by a few percentage points. This is mainly due to the fact that more manufacturers are pushing their multicrystalline 60 cell modules into the 280 W range without demanding significantly higher prices for these products. As a result, the average price for ‘high efficiency’ modules is slightly lower. I will continue to monitor this phenomenon over the next few months to correct the classification at the appropriate time.
Another conspicuous feature is the proliferation of half-cell modules on the market. The claim is that by doubling the number of cells and further optimizations, such as increasing the number of busbars while simultaneously reducing the cross-section of wires, up to 3% more power can be teased out of a module. This is probably due mainly to the lower amperage at the cell level and the resulting reduction in transition losses. The downside is an increase of the inactive area between the cells and, because this format has many more soldered joints, an increased risk of hot spots due to poor soldering. We can only hope that there has also been a commensurate improvement in production technology, so that complaints and recalls of 120 and 144 cell modules can either be avoided or limited. In terms of price, these products are still in the upper segment, which makes them unattractive for medium and large-scale projects.
In recent weeks, demand for photovoltaic systems has risen sharply not only in Germany, but also in neighboring countries, where operators and installers have woken up. Whereas the demand for replacements of faulty existing modules was particularly high during spring maintenance, the demand for standard components for new systems has now also risen sharply. Overall, we anticipate an exciting and successful year for solar in Europe. Austria, the Benelux countries, France, and Spain are just a few examples of countries where ambitious PV expansion targets have been announced for 2018 and where corresponding incentives have either been introduced already or will be introduced. In Denmark and Sweden, too, the market is poised for an upturn if the announcements of politicians and industry insiders can be believed.
We can only hope that manufacturers have started the new year well-prepared, that they can quickly follow through on commensurate or planned capacity increases, and that the supply of raw materials is able to keep pace with demand.
Investors are also in the starting blocks and, in addition to China, they are focusing on Germany and Europe, according to the business consulting firm KPMG. We are thus well positioned for global market growth of 25 to 30% this year. After all, at current module prices there are still so many projects that can be implemented economically. There is no more reason to wait, unless… S