Solar module price could drop 20 percent in 2011

LOS ANGELES Wed Apr 20, 2011 5:53pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Solar module prices could fall as much as 20 percent this year due to an excess of supply in the market, the chief executive of solar project developer Recurrent Energy said on Wednesday.

Solar modules currently sell for between $1.40 and $1.50 each, Recurrent CEO Arno Harris said in an interview, and should come down to a range of $1.20 to $1.30.

"As the industry reacts to the shifts in Europe, we're going to see those kinds of changes become transparent to the market pretty soon," Harris said.

Suppliers are cutting prices in reaction to pullbacks in generous solar subsidies in Italy, combined with the expansion of solar panel manufacturing capacity.

"The way we look at the situation right now, we are in an oversupply dynamic," Harris said, adding that, as prices come down, the U.S. solar market could absorb some of the excess supply.

One Wall Street analyst disputed Harris' figures, saying prices would likely hit the $1.50 range later this year, dropping to $1.20 some time next year.

"We do think prices are going to $1.40 to $1.50. We don't doubt that," Jefferies analyst Jesse Pichel said. "But probably it's more an end of Q3, early Q4 event."

Japan's Sharp Corp bought Recurrent for more than $300 million last year in a bid to expand its presence in the growing market for building solar power plants. Sharp is a major global manufacturer of solar panels.

But Recurrent is not using use Sharp products in its solar systems, Harris said. Rather, the company is using lower-cost panels made in China.

"I don't anticipate us using Sharp technology in our projects for some time," he said. "They have an existing business and existing distribution, and they are moving production through that channel, and we don't want to compete with their customers."

As a result, Recurrent will be a customer of panel suppliers such as China's Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd "for the foreseeable future," Harris said.

"It's very curious that he's not using Sharp," Pichel said. "Which means (Sharp) can't get to that cost structure."

Recurrent, which is based in San Francisco, has a project pipeline of 2 gigawatts and about 400 megawatts of projects operating, in construction or under contract.

The company is focused primarily on the Western United States and Ontario, Canada, markets, but is also looking toward New Jersey and emerging international markets for long-term growth.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Dave Zimmerman and Andre Grenon)