Solar Panels Now So Cheap Manufacturers Probably Selling at Loss

  • Spot prices fell to a record-low of 36 cents a watt this week
  • ‘A challenge for anyone to make money at that price’

Solar panel manufacturing.

Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

Solar manufacturers led by China’s Trina Solar Ltd. are probably selling at a loss after prices fell to a record low this week.

The global spot market price for solar panels fell 2.4 percent to an average of 36 cents a watt on Dec. 28, according to PVinsights.

That’s the bottom end of the cost range for most producers in the third quarter, according to Jeffrey Osborne, an analyst at Cowen & Co. Suppliers are expanding capacity this year while demand is expected to slow in 2017, helping to push prices down.

“Certainly it would be a challenge for anyone to make money at that price,” Osborne said in an e-mail. “The blended cost for most last quarter was about 36 cents to 38 cents.”

The current price is also lower than cost estimates from Trina. The biggest supplier of 2015 expected to reduce costs to about 40 cents a watt by the end of the year, from 45 cents in the second quarter, Chief Financial Officer Merry Xu said in an August conference call. The Changzhou, China-based company’s shareholders on Dec. 16 agreed to a $1.1 billion deal to take the company private. A spokesman declined to comment Friday.

Some companies’ cost structures remain competitive, even with prices this low.

Canadian Solar Inc., the second-biggest supplier, reported costs of 37 cents in the third quarter, down from 39 cents in the second quarter. The company has said its costs are among the lowest in the industry, and it expects to reach 29 cents a watt by the fourth quarter of 2017. Many of its competitors expect costs in the low 30s by then, Osborne said.

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