„It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.“ This Danish proverb applies to the solar sector – the largest market for polysilicon – in particular. Many analysts have been wrong about the future development of the photovoltaic (PV) market. Bernreuter Research uses a mixture of methodology, experience and intuition for making forecasts. Our track record shows that we have often been on target.
Forecast 1: Polysilicon spot price could undercut $9 per kg by the end of 2019
The polysilicon spot price may (...) rise to a range of $10-11/kg during seasonal demand peaks; but it will return to a range of $9-10/kg by the end of next year. Should high inventory levels persist, the price could approach or even undercut $9/kg.
Bernreuter Research: Polysilicon market observations at the end of the year (Newsletter), Dec. 17, 2018
Result: $8.50/kg in late December 2019
The average polysilicon spot price hovered around $9.50/kg until late July 2019 before it approached $9/kg in the second half of the year. In late November it began to plunge and bottomed out at $8.50/kg at the end of the year.
Forecast 2: Polysilicon spot price will slump to below $12 per kg in 2018
The polysilicon spot price will slump from more than 14 US$/kg currently [to] below 12 $/kg in 2018, forecasts Bernreuter.
Bernreuter Research: Cut-throat Competition on the Polysilicon Market (Press Release), Nov. 24, 2016
Result: Below $12/kg in June 2018
The average polysilicon spot price undercut $12/kg in June 2018 and hit a new all-time low of $9.53/kg in December 2018.
Forecast 3: Polysilicon spot price of $18 to $20 per kg at the end of 2014
In the lower case, the polysilicon spot price would drop to approx. $18/kg by the end of the year whereas it would come closer to $20/kg in the higher case. “Beginning in late 2014, prices will be on the downtrend again,” concludes Bernreuter.
Bernreuter Research: Ramp-up Delays to Stabilize Polysilicon Price (Press Release), July 10, 2014
What others forecasted
In October 2014, GTM Research predicted that polysilicon pricing would “be stable and possibly even increase through 2015, with pricing expected to be in the $18 to $24 per kilogram range.”
Result: Below $20/kg at the end of 2014
The average polysilicon spot price was between $19.30 and $19.80 per kg at the end of 2014. It almost continuously slid down to a range of $13.20 to $13.70 per kg by the end of 2015.
Forecast 4: Teething problems with fluidized bed reactor (FBR) technology
However, the polysilicon market analyst warns against creating too much hype about the new technology. “Silicon deposition in an FBR is not easy to control. We expect teething problems at the new plants,” says Bernreuter. Both GCL-Poly and SMP have experienced delays with their FBR projects.Bernreuter Research: New Polysilicon Technology – Promise or Hype? (Press Release), February 27, 2014
Result: SMP insolvent, GCL’s project delayed by years
SMP became insolvent in May 2016. Its high-pressure FBR technology has never worked properly. GCL-Poly started commercial FBR production as late as 2019.
Forecast 5: Global PV installations of 35 to 37 GW in 2013
We now expect new PV installations to reach 35 to 37 gigawatts (GW) in 2013.
Bernreuter Research: Polysilicon Industry to Resume Growth in 2013 (Press Release), January 8, 2013
What others forecasted
The forecast average of 24 analysts for global PV installations in 2013 was 34.8 GW.
Result: 38.6 GW in 2013
Global installations of PV systems amounted to 38.6 GW in 2013.
Forecast 6: Very small spot for upgraded metallugical-grade (UMG) silicon
Another alternative, upgraded metallurgical-grade (UMG) silicon, still has to prove its value proposition: “The sweet spot of sufficient silicon quality at low cost is very small,” says Johannes Bernreuter.
Bernreuter Research: Leaner Polysilicon Industry Poised for Rebound (Press Release), Sep. 25, 2012
Result: Only one active UMG silicon manufacturer
Only one commercial manufacturer of upgraded metallurgical-grade silicon for solar cells, Elkem Solar (now REC Solar Norway), has been left on the market since 2016.
Forecast 7: Global PV installations of 17 GW in 2010 and 27.5 GW in 2011
Polysilicon production in 2010 will be sufficient to manufacture solar modules made of crystalline silicon cells with a total power of 17 gigawatts (GW). In 2011, silicon supply for the photovoltaic (PV) industry will even be equivalent to 27.5 GW of crystalline modules, according to the latest forecast of the market research firm Bernreuter Research. The total power of crystalline modules produced annually is a good indicator of the PV market size.
Bernreuter Research: Polysilicon Enables Strong PV Growth (Press Release), October 27, 2010
What others forecasted
The forecast average of 24 analysts for global PV installations was 12.9 GW in 2010 and 18.9 GW in 2011.
Result: 19.6 GW in 2010 and 27.8 GW in 2011
Global installations of PV systems reached 19.6 GW in 2010 and 27.8 GW in 2011.
Forecast 8: Polysilicon spot price will fall to below $35/kg in 2011
Bernreuter Research: The Who’s Who of Solar Silicon Production (Market Report), April 2010
A major shakeout in the polysilicon industry in 2011 appears inevitable, anyway. By that time, a significant volume in China will probably be produced at manufacturing costs below $35/kg, and it is reasonable to assume that the spot price will fall to this level.
Result: Below $35/kg in November 2011
25 polysilicon plants shut down production in 2011. The average polysilicon spot price fell to below $35/kg in November 2011.
Nobody is perfect
Although many of its predictions have come very close to the actual result, Bernreuter Research does not own a magic crystal ball. Not each and every one of our forecasts has been correct: In The 2012 Who's Who of Solar Silicon Production, for instance, our observation was certainly right that the mainstream of analysts predicted global PV installation volumes that were far too low, but our extrapolation of this observation into the future led us to a scenario that was too aggressive. Nobody is perfect!
Conversely, in The Polysilicon Market Outlook 2020 (issued in November 2016), we did not anticipate the huge Chinese PV installation rush in 2017. It is not a shame to admit this – even big market research companies with umpteen analysts failed to forecast the Chinese boom. As mentioned above: It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.