ZT: PV Forecast: Rising demand, lower costs enable higher margins
Solar sector presents new EMS opportunities
The electronics industry was not spared in the recent worldwide recession, and it is expected to recover by 2010 along with the global economy, which is anticipated to grow by three percent driven by Asia, mainly China and India. Global recessions are times of pent-up demand; as soon as things look up, companies and people start buyingnew electronic devices and replacing old ones. This will drive the production of OEMs. Consequently, the EMS industry will experience higher volume requirement from OEMs.
The global solar industry, arguably a sunrise industry in light of the shifting values toward clean and renewable energy sources, also faced its greatest challenges in 2009, when Spain cut government support for further expansion. This dragged price levels further, falling by more than 30 percent since 2008. Early this year, 2009 global demand was projected to reach only about 3.5 GW, a drop of around 35 percent from 2008. In mid-2009, Germany capitalized on the oversupply trend and the falling costs by filling the gaps left by Spain.
The lingering oversupply in the global solar industry may yet help the market return to its normal growth path by 2010 as global demand reaches 8.34GW. After Spain's decision to put a 500MW cap on their installations for the year, Germany has taken over the reins and is poised to lead Europe's solar market. By 2010, Germany, Spain and Italy are projected to claim an 83-88-percent combined market share in Europe.
Elsewhere, the United States, led by California, is fast growing and is estimated to have the largest market for small solar energy installations by 2011.
China will likewise lead as the manufacturing hub of solar cells and will account for 32 percent of global production by 2012. Both China and India will eventually become market hotbeds as they capitalize on available land in the next five years.
The use of solar (photovoltaic, or PV) cells suggests a decreased dependence on fossil fuels, thus helping cut back greenhouse gas emissions. For many years now, solar energy has been the power supply of choice for industrial applications, where power is required at remote locations. Solar energy also makes it possible for on-site and local generation of electricity at point-of-use, that is, the electricity need not be distributed across large distances, hence reducing transmission and distribution losses. It is also frequently used on transportation signaling e.g., offshore navigation buoys, lighthouses, aircraft warning lights on pylons or structures, and increasingly in road traffic warning signals. It powers satellites used for communication, television, and GPS.
Solar energy's great benefit is that it is highly reliable and requires little maintenance. The production of solar power systems can also create new jobs in manufacturing, distribution, installation and maintenance. Their wide dispersal will create jobs in addition to industrial centers.
The EMS opportunity
EMS companies have a golden opportunity to capture value in the solar market by applying existing expertise to solar module assembly. Although development into solar can seem daunting, it is becoming clear that the future of solar will involve electronics manufacturers. This connection between EMS and solar has been validated through several precedent transactions over the past year.
Leading the charge is Jabil, with at least three contracts to assemble solar modules with Day4 Energy, Sunpower, and BP Solar. Flextronics also secured a contract with one of the largest manufacturers of solar micro-inverters. These trends are being driven both by EMS businesses that recognize the similarities between module assembly and existing electronics manufacturing processes, and existing solar companies that recognize the value of outsourcing that part of their business.
Integrated Microelectronics Inc. (IMI) recently forged a strategic partnership with SVTC, a San Jose, California-based leader in offering independent technology services to the semiconductor industry, and Renewable Energy Test Center (RETC), a Freemont, California-based engineering services, test and certification provider for PV and renewable energy products. The partnership aims to offer complete PV services encompassing solar wafer development, panel prototype, certification, and mass production. By providing IP-secure, shared access to PV equipment and services, SVTC lowers development costs and accelerates time-to-market and time-to-revenue for new solar products.
- Arthur R. Tan
Integrated Microelectronics Inc.