(Bloomberg News) Most of the biggest solar-equipment makers may disappear in the next few years as plunging prices erode margins and drive the weakest out of business, according to Trina Solar Ltd., the fifth-largest supplier of solar panels.

"This is the decade of mergers and acquisitions," Jifan Gao, chief executive officer of Changzhou, China-based Trina, said in an interview. "From now until 2015 is the first phase, when about two-thirds of the players will be shaken out."

Three U.S. solar companies including Solyndra LLC have gone bankrupt this year and more, led by First Solar Inc. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., slashed sales and margin forecasts, reflecting slower growth in demand and stiffer competition. SunPower Corp. and Roth & Rau AG of Germany agreed to takeovers.

Gao, who founded Trina in 1997, predicted that only about five companies may survive through 2020 in each of the three major manufacturing segments. He defined those as photovoltaic panels, ingots and wafers, and the raw material polysilicon.

"Globally, that would be stable and sustainable," Gao said last week in Singapore, without naming survivors or his expectations for his own company.

SunPower and First Solar, the largest U.S. solar-gear manufacturers, this month said they will reorganize after cutting their forecasts.

Meyer Burger Technology Ltd., Europe's biggest manufacturer of the factory equipment for making solar gear, today said it would delay the full takeover of Roth & Rau.

Roth & Rau Surprise

The decision was made after the German competitor issued a profit warning yesterday that may cause Baar, Switzerland-based Meyer Burger to take impairments of as much as 60 million euros ($83 million), compared with its $376 million takeover price.

Deals for solar companies worldwide total more than $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.5 billion last year and more than half the record $6.1 billion set in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Trina ranks fifth by factory capacity among the world's biggest makers of traditional panels from crystalline silicon. The leaders are China's Suntech Power Holdings Co. and LDK Solar Co., followed by Ontario-based Canadian Solar Inc. and Germany's SolarWorld AG, according to Bloomberg industry data that lists Trina with a 1.2-gigawatt capacity at Dec. 31. Gao said Trina has since increased that to 1.9 gigawatts.