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Closing of Japanese Thin-Film Maker Soltec Raises Concern for Future Equipment and Technology Development

published: 2013-11-11 10:59

The alert is on again for the thin-film market. Japan’s Honda Group recently announced that they will close their CIGS thin-film technology subsidiary company, Honda Soltec, from the end of 1Q14 to the beginning of 2Q14. According to EnergyTrend, a research division of TrendForce, the thin-film market is currently going through an extremely tough time and the situation is likely to persist in the short run. 

EnergyTrend has long been pessimistic about the future development of thin-film products. One reason is due to the si-base module manufacturers’ overcapacities that lead to the decreased module price, which in turn reduces the thin-film manufacturers’ room for price negotiations. Another reason is because the gap between the efficiency of thin-film products and si-base products is becoming bigger as the efficiency of si-based modules continues to improve. This causes thin-film products to gradually disappear from the mainstream market, and relevant manufacturers can only turn to the niche market. Therefore, with thin-film market prospect being poor and product competitiveness being weak, Honda Group is unwilling to continue to invest in it. Hence, Soltec had to be closed. 

On the other hand, EnergyTrend also focuses on the equipment and technology development of Soltec. Take Hanergy, a Chinese thin-film manufacturer, for example. They have showed strong interests in the acquisition of CIGS manufacturers, such as Solibro and MiaSole. Since Soltec’s market share has been quite large in Japan and they also have the commercialization experiences of products and sales, whether Hanergy will acquire Soltec in order to enter the Japanese market immediately and seize the customers from Solar Frontier remains to be seen. Besides, it’s worth observing whether Taiwan’s manufacturers will focus more onto this area as well. EnergyTrend indicates that there are only two CIGS technology companies, Sunshine PV and TSMC, left in Taiwan. It has been a tough journey for them to compete with the major manufacturers in terms of technology and scale. It’s believed that Soltec’s technology and market will somehow be beneficial to Taiwan’s manufacturers. If Taiwan’s manufacturers can work with Soltec through appropriate partnership, there may be whole new sparkle. 

Judging from the spot market’s overall performance, Chinese polysilicon price remained between RMB130/kg-RMB140/kg, with last week’s average price staying steady. For wafers, the demand for high-efficiency wafers continued to increase, which allowed wafer manufacturers to revise the price upward. Last week’s price increased with a 0.34% rise. For cells, manufacturers were more willing to expand production capacity. But certain cell manufacturers have started to lower price in order to avoid the drop in utilization rate caused by capacity expansion. Last week’s average price came to US$0.388/watt, a 1.02% drop. Whether the price lowering trend will extend to all manufacturers in the future remains to be seen. 

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