The rise of the Chinese and U.S. markets has been occurring steadily over the past few years, with the Chinese market seeing the greater growth in a short period of time, while the U.S. has seen slower, but steadier increases. Now, in the second half of 2014, these two markets are set to reach a new demand share record, accounting for 54% of the global market. This is up a few percentage points from the previous record, achieved in 2H’13, and up by 6x from the demand share levels seen in 2H’10.

The Japanese market has also been increasing over the past few years, but that market sees its peak in the first quarter of each calendar year rather than the last, as is the case in China and the U.S. In fact, Japan and the UK are somewhat unique in that they both see demand spikes early in the year, while much of the rest of the world sees a steady ramp through the year, with demand peaking in Q4.

These four markets – China, Japan, the US, and the UK – are definitely the ones to watch, as they are leaders in global demand that have been growing as legacy European markets have declined. Also, these markets are intertwined via supply arrangements, with lower-cost Chinese components having played a significant role in driving solar PV system competitiveness. Any late-2014 weakness in one of the markets, as a result of trade barriers for example, is likely to be compensated for in other markets as component suppliers move rapidly to other, more open markets, to maintain shipment levels.

The PV market, despite all the discussion of globalization and emerging markets, is still very much dominated by a handful of countries. The top five markets are forecast to account for almost 80% of the world market, a new high in terms of market consolidation. Companies aspiring to be competitive on the global stage must understand not only the size of these markets, but also how they are interrelated in terms of supply-chains and trade routes.

The upcoming North America PV Conference, 6 August 2014 in San Jose, California, will focus on surviving in a post-trade war world, providing insights into recent trade decisions by examining how those choices will impact the global industry and how they will create both opportunities and challenges for firms, both in the U.S. and globally.

Figure 1: Global Demand Shares by Major Market

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly, June 2014