A shortage of solar glass which is already crimping China’s solar panel output is expected to persist through the first half of 2021, with large format glass in short supply for longer, panel makers and analysts say.
Driven by growing preference for bifacial modules – which produce power from both sides of the panel – and larger panels, demand is outpacing production capacity addition, they say. An installation rush in the last quarter of the year has worsened the shortfall.
“There is a call for glass manufacturers to get production capacity up, but you still need about two years to fully come online,” said Leon Chuang, global marketing director at solar module maker Risen Energy.
Solar glass spot prices are nearly double the May-June 22-26 yuan ($3.35-$3.96) range per square metre, said Chuang.
“In the short term we cannot do anything. We just accept the high price of the solar glass… Now the shortage has eased but it’s because module makers have tweaked capacities, delayed sales and reduced revenues.”
China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of photovoltaic products, with almost 80% of the world’s solar panel production capacity in 2019, according to the China Photovoltaic Industry Association (CPIA).
Heavily dependent on coal for power generation, the country hopes to reduce coal usage by increasing renewable energy sources including solar, wind and hydro to meet its climate pledges.
Its solar sector was barely hit by the coronavirus outbreak and is expected to see newly installed solar power capacity reach 35-45 gigawatts this year, the CPIA said in July.
Glass production is expected to increase next year as new capacity from glass makers Xinyi Solar and Flat Glass comes online, said Amy Fang, an analyst at renewable energy research firm InfoLink Consulting, but large panel supplies will run short throughout 2021.
“The new capacities can produce larger glass modules… But large format glass capacity will be unable to catch up with module capacity next year,” she said.
“As module demand shifts to large format glass from the second half of next year, the shortage is expected to worsen then. Prices for such glass may remain at high levels.” ($1 = 6.5595 Chinese yuan renminbi)