2016 was a wild year and not just for solar and after decades of reliance on government incentives, subsidies and mandates the global solar industry may be inured to unpredictability but the industry as a whole should be wary of global trends. Solar PV expert Paula Mints looked at a number of the developments for solar companies in the December edition of SPV Market Research‘s Solar Flare. Adapted for AltEnergyStocks.com, this series of articles is reprinted with permission.
The high efficiency monocrystalline cell pioneer and manufacturer SunPower (SPWR) began signaling its competitive struggle in early 2016 and over the course of the year it shifted its focus from utility scale (a sector in which it is not cost competitive) to rooftop deployment (a sector in which it is still not cost competitive), shuttered module assembly in the Philippines and laid off 1200 people, and acquired JV partner AUO’s stake in the 800-MWp cell manufacturing facility in Malaysia for $170-million paid over four years.
In December SunPower announced that it would shutter 700-MWp of its cell capacity in the Philippines and lay off an additional 2500 people. The cuts were attributed to cost cutting measures. During an interview with Reuters, SunPower’s CEO said: “We are planning for (price) stability, meaning they won’t materially decrease or impair. They might be plus or minus a few percent, maybe 5 percent, on a high side 10 percent, so we expect stabilization, not necessarily price increase.”
Translated the quote means that prices are un-competitively low and we fervently hope that they will not continue to fall and though we do not expect prices to increase and we frankly have no idea what stabilization means at this point.
What it means for solar: As the robot said repeatedly on the 1960’s TV show Lost in Space: Danger Will Robinson. SunPower’s struggles in 2016, and earlier, indicate that high quality may no longer command a premium. As with First Solar, SunPower finds itself in a situation where visibility into future market direction is clear (price pressure will continue) and where an appropriate strategy has yet to emerge.
As with First Solar (FSLR), solar industry participants should hope that this industry pioneer and respected high efficiency manufacturer rights the ship.
- SunEdison, First Solar, and SolarCity
- Chinese Solar-Boom or Bubble?
- Solar Module Prices Drop To New Lows
- First Solar’s Strategy Shifts
Paula Mints is founder of SPV Market Research, a classic solar market research practice focused on gathering data through primary research and providing analyses of the global solar industry. You can find her on Twitter @PaulaMints1 and read her blog here