Is The Solar Industry In Trouble?

Last week Goldman Sachs ruined the mood of many in the solar industry—at least of those who pay attention to investment bank forecasts—by projecting that the solar panel market will shrink this year by 24 percent. It’s not the only negative forecast either, which is understandable given the latest major developments in the sector. However, the market may be getting carried away with just how much suffering the solar industry will face.

Before Goldman Sachs slapped the solar industry with its forecast of 24-percent fewer installations this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Credit Suisse warned of a decline in the solar market after China suspended approvals for new installations due to the weight of payments it already needs to make for current solar farms and, of course, after the Trump administration slapped a 25-percent import tariff on Chinese-made PV panels.

BNEF predicted that the solar market will contract by 3 percent under a conservative scenario this year, warning of a PV panel glut on a global scale. However, BNEF also forecast that this glut will lower prices and stimulate demand, which will eventually reverse the gloom, allowing the market to recover as soon as next year.

Credit Suisse has predicted a decline in new installations, projecting a 17 percent reduction this year, and the Solar Energy Industries Association has warned that the import tariffs on PV panels will lead to job losses in U.S. solar and ultimately lead the industry into a crisis. An analyst from GMT Research echoed this general sentiment but suggested he expected the increase in the number of new installations to continue.

It seems that not everyone is as gloomy as Goldman. In fact, the PV panel glut that will result from China’s decision to cut subsidies for new installations could become a silver lining on what could otherwise be considered a disaster for the industry.

As BNEF correctly projects, the more panels there are, the lower their prices will be, and the lower the prices, the more attractive they would be. Also, these glut-caused lower prices will mitigate the impact of the Trump tariffs on the U.S. solar industry, although they won’t be able to offset them completely.

There are also new solar markets opening up: Saudi Arabia is one very ambitious new addition to the industry. A survey from market research company 6WREsearch recently forecast that the Saudi solar market will expand at a compound annual rate of 30 percent between 2018 and 2024. The UAE is also very ambitious in the solar power department, planning to source a quarter of its energy from solar installations by 2030. Africa as a whole is another market that will likely become emerging force in solar power.

The fact is that the solar industry won’t stop growing, despite tariffs and the suspension of new projects in the world’s biggest solar market. These developments could slow down its growth for a while, but with more and more players entering the solar field any negative effects would be temporary. It’s worth noting that BNEF also forecast that China’s role in the global solar market will decline in the medium term and it will account for only 25 percent of new installations in 2020, down from more than half in 2017.

Irina Slav for OilPrice.com