Government support will grow solar
Tough competition from Chinese manufacturers and financial market instability saw governments in both the US and Europe reduce solar panel subsidies in 2012, thereby decreasing the number of cadmium-telluride solar cell panels manufactured over the course of the year.
Yet the installation of solar panels remained resilient, even growing in a number of markets, as the cost of panels fell dramatically over the same period.
Germany, the world’s biggest solar market, actually increased the number of solar panels installed last year, with the total coming to 7,634 megawatts (MW) — more than double the 3,500 MW expected by the Environment Ministry, according to Bloomberg.
German subsidies for consumer installation of solar power were slashed last year after European debt uncertainty made government support burdensome. Focused on growing clean energy use in the lead up to a fall election, German subsidies totalling upwards of 20.4 billion euros (US$27 billion) could add between 4,000 and 4,500 MW of solar power in 2013, Bloomberg reported.
French Energy Minister Delphine Batho announced that France will support the growth of its photovoltaic use by subsidizing local solar power generation facilities and manufacturers, with the government’s actions expected to grow investments by 2 billion euros (US$2.6 billion), Reuters reported this week.
French solar panel manufacturers have halved their workforce in the past two years in the wake of the less expensive Chinese solar panels that have flooded the market. China has set itself aggressive goals for growth, raising its 2015 target for solar panel capacity to 21 gigawatts and adding another US$1.1 billion in subsidies, more than doubling the financial support it provided in 2012.
Solar panel producers and tellurium suppliers that refine cadmium telluride (CdTe) have been pinched by the muted demand in 2012. In April, the world’s largest CdTe panel producer, First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), announced that it would be closing its thin-film module manufacturing facility in Frankfurt, Germany at the end of 2012.
But new interest in the facility has rekindled hope that investors may step in to save the facility in the first quarter of this year. Burghard von Westerholt, plant manager at the Frankfurt facility, told pv magazine that “[s]ome of the potential[ly] interested parties come from both the domestic and international solar industry,” indicating the hope that many have for one of the world’s largest solar companies.
Electronics key to tellurium growth
Outside of solar markets, tellurium demand is also being driven by its expanding use within thermoelectric applications.
In China, the metal is used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, both of which are rapidly growing industries within the country. One of the fastest-growing economies over the past 10 years, China’s refrigeration consumption grew by more than 10 percent between 2001 and 2011, more than quadrupling in size, a recent report shows.
Rising incomes in the world’s second-biggest economy have led to increased demand for home appliances, consumer electronics and computing and optics applications. Companies that supply refined tellurium metals and telluride components, like 5N Plus (TSX:VNP) and II-VI (NASDAQ:IIVI), will likely come to increasingly rely on these areas to drive growth beyond solar panel applications.
Securities Disclosure: I, James Wellstead, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.