Solar industry supply chain growing

GT Solar sells more than $700 million in solar, LED-making equipment in under a monthAs the solar industry continues to heat up, the whole supply chain is affected. Case in point, GT Solar International, Inc. (Nasdaq: SOLR), which manufactures production equipment for polysilicon-based solar products, LEDs and other specialty markets, has seen $716.1 million in new sales since April 25.

The wave of sales culminated on May 18 with its biggest order to date for polysilicon production equipment, a $228 million sale of equipment to South Korean polysilicon producer OCI Company, Ltd.

“We provide all the basic equipment for companies that want to produce their own polysilicon,” GT Solar’s Jeff Nestel-Patt, director of marketing, said via phone from China. “We are the largest supplier by far of these furnaces to the photovoltiaics industry. Most of our business is from China; 98 percent is from Asia. OCI is our biggest polysilicon customer.”

The production equipment includes GT Solar’s chemical vapor deposition reactors and other technology that offers end-to-end polysilicon production.

“We continue to drive down the cost of polysilicon production by delivering technology that improves throughput and lowers operating expense," said GT Solar CEO Tom Gutierrez.

The spread of the technology shows that companies are scaling up to mature, even as the solar industry continues to experience cyclical growing pains.

“If you look at these markets, both photovoltaics and Sapphire for the LED market, they’re young industries,” Nestel-Patt said. “What you’re starting to see is the establishment of long-term players that will be around in the industries.”

Solar companies are working to manage their costs, bringing more manufacturing equipment in-house, and some are expanding their product lines.

“Those will be the long-term winners and you’re seeing a lot of investments now,” he said. “At the same time this also helps to drive down the long-term costs of manufacturing.”

It’s also great for GT Solar.

“I think if you look at the growth of GT Solar as a company over the past three to four years, we’ve been on a pretty accelerated growth track,” Nestel-Patt said. “Year-over-year revenue has been growing pretty healthily.”

But the timing of this series of orders coming at roughly the same time is pretty coincidental, he said.