Polysilicon production, or lack thereof, has become one of the most heated topics in the solar industry in the last few years. With demand for polysilicon rising incredibly fast, manufacturers are scrambling to keep up. This skyrocketing of demand has led to a significant rise in openings of new polysilicon manufacturing companies, especially in the U.S. where increasing federal and state incentives are pushing up demand. However, the market is still controlled by a handful of large corporations. These seven companies account for roughly 75% of polysilicon production:
- Hemlock Semiconductor (USA)
- Wacker-Chemie AG (Germany)
- Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) (Norway)
- Tokuyama Corporation (Japan)
- MEMC (USA)
- Mitsubishi (Japan & USA)
- Sumitomo-Titanium (Japan)
Polysilicon is also used in the manufacturing of common electronic devices such as telephones, wristwatches, stereos, and many more. Most of polysilicon production goes to making such devices with only around one third going to solar photovoltaic panels. This is part of the problem for the solar industry. The global, multiple market need for polysilicon has driven PV costs up in recent years and led to the present shortage, with demand expected to keep on climbing.
Yet, generally it is projected that the polysilicon manufacturing sector will catch up by 2010, just a few years away. This is due partially to the influx and growth of manufacturing companies but also to the projected rise in Thin Film solar cells, which are less efficient than polysilicon panels but facilitate more building integrated products such as solar shingles. They also promise a large reduction in production costs themselves.
Right now things are good for polysilicon manufacturers. Many are sold out of their product before they have even produced it, existing manufacturers are expanding, and new competition is entering the field. But how long will it last? There is so much demand existing right now and so much more projected that no solar industry manufacturer, of any kind, should have anything to worry about. Yet nonetheless, polysilicon manufacturers may have to adapt to the fact that demand not only increases, but also changes.