Preliminary Estimate Says 2008 Was Solar Boom Year

According to a report just out from Navigant Consulting, last yearâ''s PV shipments, at 5.4 GW, were up 78 percent from 2007. If confirmed by further analysis, the industryâ''s performance ran strongly counter to the general economic downturn, and photovoltaics seem to be taking off. But there are two major reasons for caution. One is uncertainty in the numbers themselves (estimates of 2007 shipments have varied from 2.8 to 3.43 GW). The other is that with about 1 GW of PV stuck in inventory, and incentives being pared back in the two countries mainly driving demand, last yearâ''s PV sharp uptick could turn out to be an aberration.

Last year, says Navigant, Germany and Span accounted for close to four fifths of PV purchases. But both countries are modifying the generous feed-in tariff laws that have driven demand. Spainâ''s 44 cent/kWh subsidy produced results faster than expected but by the same token proved much too costly; itâ''s being cut to 34 cents/kWh for small rooftop installations and 32 cents/kWh for all others.

Also of interest in the Navigant report are changes in the rankings of top ten PV producers. Sharp, after holding the number one position for years, has dropped to third place. Germanyâ''s Q-Cells is now Number One, and the California company Suntech Number Two. Arizonaâ''s First Solar, which has made headlines with its dramatic claims about manufacturing cost reductions for its thin-film cells, is fourth.

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