Global PV Module Pricing Trends at the Start 2013 c-Si vs. Thin Film

by Michael Barker, Senior Analyst
January 30, 2013 

Even in the current state of PV module overcapacity that exists within the solar industry, pricing variation still exists. This spans technology, origin, brand, or a combination of these and other factors. Here we examine pricing differentials between a variety of module segmentations within the c-Si and thin film module categories. An upcoming blog will consider weighted average module pricing regardless of technology.

During the past few years in the c-Si module segment, true technology differentiation has been relatively minimal. The growth in module capacity – led to a large extent by emerging Chinese firms – has focused less on technological innovation and more on ramping capacity as quickly as possible in an attempt to gain market share. This drive to acquire market share – often at any cost – has now led to a situation where leading companies are unable to invest the necessary funds into R&D to differentiate their products on a technological/efficiency basis.

Given this reality, most firms are focused on promoting their brand name in an attempt to create a quality distinction and thereby secure higher average selling prices (ASPs). However, this strategy did not have a dramatic effect in 2012. Even Tier 1 Chinese firms were offering product with a 5-10% discount compared to weighted average c-Si module pricing (excluding high efficiency premium products).

But some manufacturers were successful in commanding premium pricing during 2012, based on perceived brand quality. Often, this was linked to strong market-share within specific countries/regions where the manufacturer/brand was particularly strong. However, even within this category, price premiums have been declining over the past few quarters. The first figure shows that pricing between c-Si module categories has changed relatively little over the past year as end-market price erosion is affecting all categories.

Compared to their c-Si counterparts, thin film PV modules offer a different proposition as there are only a handful of manufacturers currently offering high quantities of product to the market. As a result, these companies are differentiated less by brand and more by type of product or business model. Thin film technologies often have very different cost and efficiency metrics, a big difference compared to c-Si modules. As such, thin film products exhibit a wider range of pricing differentials (second figure). But even these have been converging over the past year. Since thin film technologies have also been impacted by the global oversupply situation, they now see increased competition from the c-Si segment.

While differences continue to exist in module ASPs based on brand and technology, there are distinct and separate trends emerging across each module type (c-Si and thin film). In the c-Si segment, data from the past year shows that pricing differentials have stayed relatively flat with pricing pressure affecting all pricing categories in equal proportions. In the thin film segment, there is an emerging trend towards pricing equality (strictly on a $/W basis and assuming similar volume sales offers). While each of these trends is certainly of interest, c-Si and thin film modules do not strictly compete solely against other products of like-technology.

c-Si PV Module Pricing Differentials

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly

Thin film PV Module Pricing Differentials

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly