Lux Research has released its third annual ranking of the top global manufacturers of solar modules. The list includes many of the major players in the industry such as First Solar and Suntech Power -- which combined put out about four gigawatts of panel production last year -- but also included some new risers on the list such as Japan-based Sharp and South Korea's Hanwha Solar One.
Lux, the Boston-based technology research firm, said that the increased production in Japan and South Korea stems from booming demand after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.
"[Japan and South Korea] were quite hesitant about the technology before the Fukushima events," explained Fatima Toor, the Lux research analyst who led this year's ranking project. "But they are now starting to realize that nuclear is not really renewable energy. It has consequences."
Another factor driving changes to the ranking this year is European financial crisis.
"There was a significant increase in demand for panels from 2009-2010," Toor explained. "This growth was driven by government incentives around the world, particularly in Europe."
After the fiscal crises throughout the EU last year, however, much of this funding has dried up, and with it demand for the new technology, she said. This has resulted in overall global oversupply and flat demand from 2010-2011.
"Because of the oversupply, the costs are really low," Toor said. This has resulted in reduced profits across the industry this year and has signalled to many a crisis in the solar market.
In its report, Lux Research noted that crystalline silicon module panels are now selling at record lows - about $.9 per watt with tier 1 manufacturers and even lower with tier 2 and tier 3 companies.
While this may have hurt manufacturing numbers this year, it may mean a boon to the industry next year, Toor explained.
"[The low cost] helps the demand side of things," she said. "We think it will help demand will catch up with supply."
If this is true, the solar industry may be in for some major shifts in 2012. We'll see how it plays out in next year's report.