What’s Happening with c-Si and Thin Film Pricing Categories?

Michael Barker, Senior Analyst, February 14, 2013

Even with the current PV module over-capacity within the solar industry, pricing variation still exists across different types of technology, origin of manufacture, brand recognition, or a combination of these and other factors.

This blog continues the theme that was discussed in the previous article featured on the NPD Solarbuzz web site, examining price trends over the past five quarters.

Here, we  review the pricing trajectories for c-Si and thin film PV modules and examine pricing differentials against a weighted average selling price (ASP) for the whole PV segment.

As shown in Figure 1 below c-Si module pricing started 2012 with a larger quarterly decrease than thin film. But the pricing trends for c-Si and thin film modules were essentially parallel for the remainder of last year. While the graphic may suggest that thin film modules had an advantage over their c-Si counterparts during the year, this is not necessarily the case.

Figure 1: Quarterly PV Module Pricing Declines

Quarterly PV Module Pricing Declines

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly

Over the past year, thin film modules have retained higher ASPs than most c-Si modules, the exception being the higher prices obtained by c-Si Tier 1 Premium Brand products.  

Two factors contribute to this trend. First, some thin film technologies have higher production costs than standard efficiency c-Si modules. Therefore, while ASPs may be higher than c-Si modules in some cases, the margins on thin film products are not by default higher.

Second, the higher price of some thin film products can also be due to their ability to fill niche markets not addressable by c-Si PV, such as low weight-bearing rooftops, non-uniform surfaces which require flexible substrates, or in low-light or high irradiation climates where sales teams are particularly effective in selling thin film components against c-Si modules.

Figure 2: PV Module Pricing Differentials

PV Module Pricing Differentials

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly

There is still differentiation amongst modules in terms of ‘best-use’ application types. End-users must determine the best product for their particular situation. Also, developers select different components for a utility-scale tracking system compared to a non-loading bearing rooftop installation.

Also, reputation (or ‘brand’) and bankability are also major factors when selecting PV components, as evidenced by c-Si premium brand pricing. With most companies offering 20+ year warranties, customers want to be assured that these obligations will be met in the future and will often pay more for such assurances.

In summary, while comparative pricing between PV modules is a major decision-point, it is certainly not the sole factor behind the purchase of such components.


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