First Solar is continuing to live up to its name. Unarguably the largest thin-film PV module manufacturer and recently dubbed second largest PV manufacturer overall, the company is now the world’s largest solar EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contractor.
That’s according to both IHS’s IMS Research report, issued March 27, and data reported at Wiki-Solar on March 19. Both concluded that in 2012 First Solar became the world’s largest solar EPC company with more than 500 megawatts of completed projects. IMS Research said that represented an increase of 50 percent over 2011. The Wiki-Solar report put First Solar’s installations at 759 MWs installed as of March 2013, including ongoing projects like Agua Caliente, which has more than 200 MWs operational.
Both reports concur that there’s a shift from Europe happening. “The geographic profile of the market is changing radically, with more countries joining and passing Germany and Spain at the top of the international league table,” said Philip Wolfe, an industry analyst with Wiki-Solar and author of Solar Photovoltaic Projects.
IHS’s Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research, explained it more brashly: “Because of the dramatic shift in demand away from Europe, non-European companies are now completing vast numbers of PV projects around the world. Last year, just four of the top 10 EPCs and system integrators were based in Europe due to the large project business of US, Chinese and Indian companies. Back in 2010, seven of the top 10 EPCs were European.”
While both companies put First Solar at the top of the list, things changed after that. Wiki-Solar’s top five, which only looked at projects over 10 MWs was rounded out, in order of highest first, by: Juwi Solar, SunEdison, Activ Solar and Belectric. While IMS’ included in order of highest first, by: SunEdison, Belectric, China Power Investment Corp., and Juwi. SunPower, another U.S. company that, like First Solar, manufacturers modules and provides EPC services, made both lists as well.
Both First Solar and SunEdison are increasing their international project portfolio and benefitted from pipelines of utility-scale PV projects in the US and elsewhere. But China’s companies that made both lists are still focussing on the market in the country.
“Chinese companies have yet to become prominent outside their home market, except of course in the supply of solar modules and inverters,” Wiki-Solar’s Wolfe said. “But that may change as China’s share of the global installed market continues to grow. Having said that, the pipeline of known projects suggests that China could be overtaken at the top of the national league table—within a few months—by the U.S.”
However, a growing body of evidence has suggested that China will lead the international race for most solar installed in 2013. If so, the country will be the first to outpace Germany in over a half decade.