Solarbuzz sees 2014 poly demand up

Global demand for polysilicon will increase 25% in 2014 to 282,000 metric tons from last year, driven by a rapid rise in end-market solar PV module shipments, according to NPD Solarbuzz.

Most polysilicon is used in solar applications, which has less stringent purity requirements than those for semiconductors. When, as now, solar panel demand is strong, the potential for very high solar PV-grade ploysilicon growth rates is there, NPD Solarbuzz says.

While semiconductor polysilicon is a high value-added segment, future demand growth will be modest in a mature market.

NPD Solarbuzz forecasts global manufacturers will ship 49GW of end-market solar PV modules this year.

The consultancy cautions that the growth trajectory in polysilicon supply and end-market demand is not always directly correlated.

It may take three to six months after polysilicon is produced for it to be converted into wafers and cells, and then delivered as finished modules through distribution channels for installation. This time lag can push polysilicon demand higher than module demand, in a rapidly expanding market.

“Conversely, the amount of silicon required per watt at the module level has been declining steadily each year,” says Charles Annis, vice president at NPS Solarbuzz. He notes that solar supply chain firms have lowered the number of grams per watt by reducing wafer thickness and kerf loss. This boosts yields in all manufacturing steps, reduces module loss, while raising panel efficiency.

The consultancy says between 2005 and the end of 2014, the average amount of silicon used in a solar module will decline 55% to 5 grams per watt. It expects this trend to continue, though at a slower rate, as most of the material reduction steps enacted to reduce polysilicon consumption have now been exhausted.