Global PV polysilicon prices rise

No access of U.S.-based polysilicon to the booming Chinese market. (photo: dpa picture alliance)
No access of U.S.-based polysilicon to the booming Chinese market. (Photo: dpa picture alliance)

The ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States continues to affect the manufacture of polysilicon used for photovoltaic modules in both countries, but not equally, according to a new report of IHS Inc. on the global PV market. A rush to install projects in China before the deadline for feed in tariff levels of those projects on June 30, 2016, has led to increasing polysilicon prices In fact, before the Chinese New Year in February 2016, polysilicon was sold for just $12 per kg, on average. Now, prices are expected to rise to $19 per kg (i.e. more than 50 %) by April 2016.

“Strong demand for polysilicon prices is triggered by the FIT deadline in China,” said Karl Melkonyan, solar supply-chain analyst for IHS Technology. “Buyers cannot wait any longer to buy polysilicon for solar modules, if they want to them produced and installed before the end of June. It is highly unlikely that polysilicon prices will continue increasing in the second half of the year, but a flat pricing outlook is certainly a possibility, if demand remains as high as previously forecast.”

No access for U.S. manufacturers

U.S. polysilicon manufacturers have essentially lost access to China, which is the largest manufacturing base for PV modules. This situation is causing severe financial distress for many U.S.-based companies. They cannot benefit from the strong polysilicon demand and the recent price increase in China.

Meanwhile, suppliers in Korea and other Asian countries have stepped in and greatly benefited from their ability to increase market share in China and other markets. In fact, Korean polysilicon players now account for almost half of all imported polysilicon in China.

“Western manufacturers can no longer sell into China, which is leading to inventory over-supply and even causing some factories to close,” said Jessica Jin, solar supply chain analyst for IHS Technology. “Although they are trying to sell polysilicon at bargain prices, there is low demand for purchasing silicon outside of China, because most wafer factories are located in China.”

Meanwhile, consolidation continues within the global polysilicon industry. While important manufacturers have reduced their business scale, only a few players have announced capacity expansion plans in 2016. “Polysilicon inventories have reached critical levels, which is placing many U.S.-based polysilicon companies at risk; however, due to increased demand in China, OCI, Hanwha Chemical and other Korean suppliers have been able to reduce their inventory levels significantly,” Jin said.

Volker Buddensiek / IHS

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