By Robert Benedict
Now that we see new polysilicon production lines coming online in modest numbers, the question facing the solar industry is: Will be a module shortage, or will mono-Si wafer supply exceeding demand, leading to another round of price competition? Polysilicon may become the focus in the upstream sector as a result of a shortage; Chinese polysilicon capacity expects to exceed 85 percent of the global polysilicon market in 2021, with Xinjiang housing more than 50 percent Chinas total.
The polysilicon sector was hit with industrial accidents that sent ripple effects across the PV supply chain, and the continued China and U.S. dispute over a forced labor issue in Xinjiang may lead to yet another episode of polysilicon shortage. After the outbreak of coronavirus forced the world into lockdowns and caused major delays in projects, COVID-19-induced impacts on the solar sector have gradually subsided. As high season fell upon the PV market in the second half of 2020, global module demand reached above 115 GW by year-end.
In a post-COVID-19 world, all signs indicate a bright future for solar. Predictions indicate growth of global module demand to 145 GW in 2021, up 15 percent from 2020. On top of that, nearly 20 countries will reach the GW scale this year. Among these, China, the U.S., and Europe will lead the solar growth. India was expected to be a part of the growth but has experienced an advanced COVID presence. Together, these countries represent more than 70 percent of global market demand.
China, due to enter the grid parity era under the 14th Five-Year Plan, is expected to see 20 percent growth. Europe, which is committed to the Paris Agreement, will see continued strong demand. Driven by a step-down of the ITC and the renewable target set by each state, the U.S. predicts growth of more than 30 percent. Though ravaged by the pandemic, the Indian market is forecast to bounce back from its virus slump, with 60 percent growth expected. These developments will push module demand toward 100 GW
Traditional markets aside, emerging markets are also worth noting. The Asian Pacific region will maintain stable growth, while Latin America (where electricity cost is low), and the Middle East (where utility-scale projects are underway), will witness 30-60 percent growth, further contributing to the solar boom by the end of the year 2021. It is necessary to provide more details on challenges and opportunities facing the renewables industry in the post-COVID-19 era. The solar industry's core seeks to bring together industry professionals, manufacturers, and end-users renewables to explore new solar and energy storage opportunities.
The evolution of the energy sector over the past 25 years has surpassed every expectation, and today, energy forms a key pillar of political and social strategies in many of the world's economies. Given the continuous development and advancement of new technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the next 25 years should yield some big surprises.
Watch for the following five key trends over the next quarter-century:
1. It will be the consumer's decision to no longer be a passive buyer of energy, but an active participant in the energy sector, as well as a member of the energy community.
2. Renewables will make demand-side flexibility necessary to grid management and, therefore, of the utmost urgency.
3. Artificial Intelligence will enable the integration of renewables and grid optimization.
4. Regulations on global and local levels regarding new technologies and sustainable resources will be of prime importance. Investment in these new technologies will drive us into the future.
5. The grid's resilience will also be a focal point of the energy sector in the years to come.
In light of China’s denial of human rights abuse allegations, A Biden administration report will likely draw additional scrutiny to the country’s outsized role in the global solar power industry. China has anywhere from 71 to 97 percent of the world's capacity for various solar panel components. Xinjiang alone produces nearly half of the world's solar-grade polysilicon, and is home to factories for some of the industry's most prominent players.
Meanwhile, many countries are betting on solar as a necessary form of renewable energy as they work to transition away from more polluting power sources. According to an October report from the International Energy Agency, renewable energy - led by solar power - could make up 80 percent of the growth in electricity generation over the next decade.
The industry is nothing if not resilient; every time solar has run into headwinds, it finds a way to go over, under, around, or through to continue its upward trajectory. Despite the possibility of a looming module shortage, it’s a smart bet that solar will rebound with newer, smarter technology and increased production closer to home.
Robert Benedict is Chairman/CMO of Unicorn Solar Development, a California-based company comprised of team that offers more than 30 years of industry experience in PV module procurement, project management, business development, solar financing, residential and commercial solar project installations, and management consulting.