Category: News

PV ModuleTech Talk: George Touloupas, Director of Technology & Quality at Clean Energy Associates

The third PV ModuleTech conference takes place in Penang, Malaysia on 22-23 October 2019, with the agenda of speakers, companies and topics largely complete. One of the key companies presenting at PV ModuleTech this year is Clean Energy Associates, one of the industry leaders in factory auditing, inline monitoring of assembly lines and inspection of modules pre-shipment.

Recently, PV-Tech took the opportunity to catch up with George Touloupas, the Director of Technology and Quality at Clean Energy Associates and a key partner at the forthcoming PV ModuleTech 2019 meeting in Penang in October this year. 

We talked about some of the new industry trends in module manufacturing and technology, and what attendees of PV ModuleTech 2019 can expect to hear from the company’s presentation at the event.

For starters, it would be good to get an update on business operations at CEA; how much has business grown and what have been the key changes with new projects in the past couple of years?

George Touloupas: “CEA’s current track record of engagements is over 35 GW of projects, growing fast, but this figure includes not just quality assurance services, but also takes into account  engineering services (onsite inspections, owners engineering etc.) and supply chain management services (running RFPs, technical advisory on contracts, market intelligence etc.). We currently have more than 100 professionals, with over 70% of them being engineers and we keep hiring at a pace, as we have now fully launched the same range of services for the Storage sector. CEA’s service offering has increased dramatically both in breadth and volume in the last 2-3 years. We are now offering a more holistic service to our clients, because that’s exactly what they need when they plan the procurement of GW-sized pipelines, some coupled with storage, amid trade wars, fast changing markets and massive technology shifts.”
 
Where is most of the effort today for CEA? Is this factory auditing, inline monitoring or pre-shipment inspection? Is this likely to remain the same split in business activities over the next 12 months also?

Factory audits are always in constant demand, as new facilities are being built, new players become important and old players make a come-back. Clients who are new entrants in PV also typically need factory audit reports for their financiers. CEA always recommends the performance of a factory audit at a facility, if we haven’t been there recently or we don’t have confidence in the quality performance, for example in the case that a new product will be manufactured. Now, with respect to the manufacturing of a project, I would say that for more than 90% of the projects where we have quality assurance activities, we perform both inline production monitoring and pre-shipment inspection. These 2 auditing activities are indeed complimentary, in the sense that each one screens out quality deficiencies that may elude the other. For example, it is impossible to detect certain critical BoM [Bill of Materials] violations by doing pre-shipment inspection only. Daily inline monitoring is essential to validate that the right BoM is used in production. 

The Southeast Asia region has seen strong factory investments for cell and module assembly during the past five years. How have these fabs been performing, according to CEA? And how do they benchmark against the best-in-class Chinese module fabs?

The truth is that the investment in crystalline silicon module manufacturing in South East Asia (I’d single out First Solar’s CdTe investment, which is a different story), has been, and still is, very opportunistic and entirely dependent on global trade war outcomes. As the abolition of the European MIP last year demonstrated, where the entire manufacturing volume switched to China overnight, the cost of manufacturing in China is unbeatable. Although the manufacturers take all possible measures to reduce the cost and take advantage of the Chinese raw material supply chain efficiencies and the dilution of R&D and other overheads through global vertical integration, the cost of manufacturing in South East Asia is at least 5% higher than in China. This fact, combined with the fickleness of trade wars, renders any long-term investment initiative very risky. As a result, we have big OEM operations, like Vina’s in Vietnam, where mainstream manufacturers “line-up” to produce for the US markets. In fact, this instability and unwillingness to properly invest in upgrades and expansions has created a demand-supply imbalance for the US market, that is forecasted to continue for at least the next year, driving high premiums into the prices. Chinese manufacturing lines, on the other hand, are methodically upgraded, expanded and fitted with the latest technology, and staffed with the best quality teams. CEA is continuously making efforts to ensure that quality is not compromised when products are made in South East Asia. Fortunately, our US clients are very much quality conscious, and we are working closely with them to make this happen.

Module assembly lines have seen rapid technology upgrade steps introduced in the past 2-3 years, driven by PERC, half-cut cell use and new materials being used. Many times, the module makers describe these changes as routine, but with changes in BoMs, supply-chains and new process tools, should we be considering these new lines, from an inline monitoring perspective?

It’s true that the amount and pace of changes in the recent couple of years has been phenomenal, following a rather sleepy decade. This had to happen, as the race to the lowest LCOE is accelerating. The manufacturers can’t even keep up with testing new product variants for extended reliability, and the buyers have trouble figuring out what’s best for them in this colourful range of product offerings. With the proliferation of wafer sizes, even module power comparison becomes a riddle. This cascade of changes is far from being routine and the manufacturers go through painful learning curves during mass production ramp ups, but they naturally prefer to keep a low profile about this. The reality is that buyers don’t have the luxury to be conservative and be left out of the game by competitors acquiring stronger technologies, therefore, these advanced products enter mass production sooner than one would expect in a mature industry, so a solution to the quality risk problems has to be found, irrespective. Over the years, CEA has built an extended network of deep relations with all important manufacturers, R&D personnel, CTOs and test labs. This gives us a unique advantage in identifying the quality risks well in advance of being widely known and in implementing the right safeguards during the quality assurance oversight activities, before, during and after production. 

Pre-shipment inspection must also be evolving beyond historical EL and IV testing processes. How much has PERC changed the landscape in terms of inspection metrics? Similarly, are other module technology changes demanding new means of inspecting modules pre-shipment?

As stressed before, it is essential to not only perform pre-shipment inspection, but also inline monitoring to screen out most risks. The monofacial modules using PERC [Passivated Emitter Rear Cell] cells do not require substantially different safeguards, but bifacial modules have more areas prone to quality risks to focus on, such as the glass-glass lamination and the power measurement. Moreover, the well-known LID [Light Induced Degradation] and less well known LeTID [Light and elevated Temperature Induced Degradation] risks which are more pronounced with PERC cells demand the introduction of rigorous but practical batch testing protocols before shipment. Even if the products have passed these tests at an initial phase, process and material instabilities can still be subject to deviations and create risks.

Clean Energy Associates has been a loyal supporter of the PV ModuleTech events since they started. What new topics would you like to hear from other parts of the value-chain, at the event in October?

The product technology choice is fundamentally a financial decision, almost entirely based on LCOE [Levelized Cost of Electricity] optimization and, with the rise of storage, on energy asset dispatchability as well. I would like to see more content and presentations of case studies from end users where this area, which can be very complex to optimize, is more thoroughly explored.

And finally, what will the CEA presentation be focusing on during the event?

We will present quality data and some very interesting insights from our statistical analysis of the data, which were collected from many GWs of projects using diverse technologies.
 
Thanks George – look forward to catching up in Penang in October!

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PV ModuleTech 2019: Q&A with Luca Votta from testing and certification services firm Kiwa

PV ModuleTech will be returning to Penang, Malaysia on 22-23 October 2019. The agenda sessions and topics at PV ModuleTech 2019 will focus on the key global issues today in terms of module technology, quality, and reliability – specific to large-scale module purchasing decisions over the next 12-18 months.

As an event partner at this year’s PV ModuleTech, PV-Tech took the time to catch up with Luca Votta, International Business Manager Solar & Wind at Kiwa Group to find out what he is looking forward to from this year’s event and what we can expect from Kiwa.

Kiwa provides testing and certification services across a wide range of sectors, including PV Modules and inverters in order to help identify reliable partners and quality products.

Firstly, what is new with Kiwa today, with the changes that have occurred in the industry over the past few months?

Luca Votta: ”Solar Market changed a lot in the last 2 years and especially in the last few months. The core business of Kiwa in Solar is relates to TIC services (Testing – Inspection – Certification). Our clients historically are PV Solar Manufacturers and Inverters Manufacturers. Today Kiwa is expanding its services more and more on financial and technical due diligences for Investors, Buyers, Installers through dedicated services directly on-field or directly on the production facilities. Kiwa is well established in Europe with several labs for Solar, out main target now is to expand ourselves in SE Asia and North America.”

At what point in the project development is Kiwa typically brought in?

“Normally at the beginning of the project. The scope of work is defined together with manufacturers (in the case of TIC services) or with buyers and Investors (before the deal between the buyer and the final provider of the PV modules/Inverters/Batteries)”

What issues are people concerned about at the moment specifically for testing and inspections? Do you see any trends in the types of questions people are asking about their projects or products?

“Most of the trends are related to bankability items. Investors would like to buy good products from reliable partners. Stakeholders ask for dedicated services in order to ensure the quality of the goods. 

Moreover, we see a trend in the production processes as well, where the necessity to increase the efficiency of the products keeping the final price competitive, led companies to create innovative products (prototypes). Today we are testing a lot of patented prototypes, that can create a real market innovation, particularly in the field of photovoltaic modules. One of the topics I would like to present at the next PV Module Tech in Penang is an R&D case of study of one of these prototypes we have tested in our Kiwa facilities.”

In your opinion, what is the most important question that an investor should be asking both before and after the build process?

“In recent years there have been many companies in the solar market that have gone bankrupt because of insolvency. Especially with regard to component manufacturers. The main problem in my opinion is the long-term reliability of the products. 

Is the product I’m buying reliable? What can I do to increase the confidence level I have in the supplier? Will I be able to claim my guarantee in the coming years?”

As one of our partners at PV ModuleTech 2019 what will you be talking about during your presentation and what do you hope will be the key takeaways?

SE Asia market is not completely aware about Kiwa and the solar services Kiwa can offer to the main stakeholders. The main intention for us at the next PV Module Tech is to present, on one hand, our global portfolio of services for the Primary and the Secondary solar market. But I do not want to boring the audience too much, so my idea is to show why Kiwa is different respect the other Notified Bodies, which is our plus. We are reliable, fast and quite cheap, but most of all we work really close with the customers with the intention to support them in the development of their business. For this reason, as mentioned above, one of the topics I would like to present at the next PV Module Tech in Penang is an R&D very successful case of study we have worked on in the last 2 years.

 

PV ModuleTech will be returning to Penang, Malaysia on 22-23 October 2019.

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PVCellTech Talk: Q&A with Jenya Meydbray, CEO, PV Evolution Labs

Leading up to the fourth PV CellTech conference in Penang on 12-13 March 2019, we continue our series of interviews with leading PV industry stakeholders from across the entire value-chain, connected by the same common goal of wanting to know how PV technology will advance over the next 12-18 months.

During previous PV CellTech events, and also our sister event held each October (PV ModuleTech), one of the most active participants has been Jenya Meydbray, currently the CEO of PV Evolution Labs (PVEL).

During the past couple of years, Jenya’s interest in PV technology and module quality (the two pillars of PV CellTech and PV ModuleTech, respectively) has been evident through his active interest in the two events. Until recently, Jenya held previous roles at DNV-GL (from which PV Evolution Labs emerged recently) and Cypress Creek Renewables; companies that are very much involved with modules, and not directly at the cell production stage.

However, while many downstream companies are focused only on what the local sales rep is offering them today from a module standpoint, the market-leaders in project development, EPC work and module quality/testing/inspection look far more closely at PV cell trends, as developments here are forming the basis of mainstream PV module supply about 12-18 months later.

On returning to PV CellTech 2019 as an avid participant, PV-Tech invited Jenya to moderate one of the sessions, and ahead of the event on 12-13 March 2019, we took the chance to ask Jenya some questions and observations on PV cell technology, from his more ‘downstream’ focus in the industry. The following is a summary of the discussion between PV CellTech chair and head of research at PV-Tech (Finlay Colville) and Jenya:

Finlay Colville: Welcome back to PV CellTech, Jenya. Before we look at technology issues and the event next week, could you give a quick update on how things have been going at PV Evolution Labs since your return as CEO and the new plans for 2019?

Jenya Meydbray: Hello Finlay, it’s great to be heading back to PV CellTech. Since PVEL [PV Evolution Labs] relaunched in January, the market reaction has been excellent. Our labs are busier than ever. Cell and module technology are both evolving faster today than ever before, and this is driving demand for third-party reliability and performance testing. Developers and financial institutions must have confidence in new technology before they can deploy it. PVEL’s services – especially our Product Qualification Programs (PQPs) for modules, inverters and batteries – are as relevant today as they were when I co-founded PVEL nearly a decade ago.

Many downstream players now recognize that crystalline silicon technology is not all the same. Reality has shown us that new aging mechanisms and operational characteristics can impact a project’s financial success, potentially both positively and negatively. For example, light and elevated temperature induced degradation (LeTID) surprised many when PERC started to gain market share. Similarly, there are unknown benefits and risks to glass vs. clear backsheets, bifacial modules, conductive adhesives, shingling, larger wafers, n-type cells, alternative encapsulants, and cast mono, to name just a few of the new technologies that PVEL is currently testing. That’s the key reason I’m looking forward to PV CellTech. It’s the best place to learn about trends in real commercial cell production capacity as we develop the next generation of PVEL’s cell and module qualification tests. 

We have many people and companies attending PV CellTech each year from the downstream segments – mostly global developers – and also test/inspection labs and IE’s. But we don’t often have people that have experience in both these roles! So maybe we can look at the next question from the combined viewpoint of the downstream ‘segment’ as a whole: can you sum up why developers, EPCs and investors need to understand PV technology today?

Since project development is a time-consuming undertaking, most firms are forced into bidding very competitive PPAs today based on pricing and yields for construction that may be years in the future, especially for larger projects. Project economic success is typically measured in Net Present Value (NPV), which is basically a measure of forecasted cash flows and the cost to build and operate the project. It’s impossible to win competitive PPAs without knowing where PV technology is heading and how these advancements will impact price and yield.

Historically, a lot of developers got burned by making assumptions that were too aggressive or by implementing equipment that didn’t meet yield or reliability expectations. Similarly, a lot of developers saw windfall profits from pricing that plummeted faster than anyone couldve predicted. It’s a tough game and nobody has the crystal ball. PVEL [PV Evolution Labs] helps our downstream partners avoid the downfalls of selecting equipment that will not meet expectations.

One of the issues I often see with developers is that they have a quick dive into PV technology and module supply rather on an ad-hoc basis, and then base their site designs and component suppliers/technologies based upon this for some time. However, with the rate of change of technology, how can developers best plan for changes in module performance and technology?

I absolutely agree that this is fairly common practice. The problem is that most technology and most vendors aren’t relevant until they are. That is to say, most developers don’t proactively diligence equipment on an ongoing basis. They wait until they’re ready to buy. This is why an independent party like PVEL can help by maintaining up-to-date data on a wide variety of vendors. When developers are ready for that ad hoc review, PVEL has the information they need for a truly deep dive. We currently support over 300 downstream partner companies. 

The module reliability scorecard provides an excellent reference for investors today. Should we expect to see changes to this during the next 12 months and what factors are driving this from a cell/module production standpoint?

Our goals for the PV Module Reliability Scorecard are to support and educate the industry by publishing highlights from our research as a simple, free download. It also helps us raise the profile of our manufacturer clients that perform well in reliability testing. Investors and other stakeholders can clearly identify the manufacturers who make quality and reliability their top priorities by reviewing the Scorecard rankings over time.

We’re happy that in 2019 we’re continuing to work with DNV GL on the Module Scorecard as a joint publication. This year’s report will be released mid-year and will feature most manufacturers of relevance and some new vendors that are working hard to expand market share. It will highlight long-term trends that we’ve identified over nearly 10 years of module testing as well as the new reliability testing methodologies that will be used in our module Product Qualification Program in 2019-2020.

PV CellTech 2019 will feature much discussion around the potential availability of advanced n-type modules, being offered to non-China located utility-scale plants. This is a relatively new concept in the PV industry, with much of the premium performing modules being restricted to rooftop markets. Aside from successfully ramping new fabs with low-cost, what other factors should these manufacturers consider, before they embark on global sales and marketing campaigns?

There are several important characteristics of advanced technology that will drive adoption over time. Developers that are early adopters of the right new technology will have an important jump start over the market. I’m surprised by how many PV module sales representatives still focus on dollars per STC watt exclusively. In my opinion, advanced technology such as n-type heterojunction can rightfully command a premium with bifaciality at over 90%, much lower temperature coefficients, potentially better low light performance, and higher STC efficiency. This all translates into more value in the field, and several percent of improved yield is worth several cents per Wp of project NPV. If the module premium is below that added value, everyone wins.

Once the industry determines how to properly value advanced technology it will catch on, just as PERC did a few years ago. Of course, choosing a new technology always has risks of new degradation and failure mechanisms, so it must be effectively vetted and qualified.

And finally, PV CellTech 2019 is just one week away. What are you hoping to learn about PV manufacturing technology over the course of the two days?

As we’ve discussed, there are many new exciting technologies being considered today with no obvious front runner yet. PV CellTech is the best place to gain insights into which technology is pulling ahead in technology and manufacturing capacity. What comes after PERC will be more clear after PV CellTech.

Thanks Jenya! We are all looking forward to your involvement at PV CellTech again, seeing you on stage doing your moderating duties, and sharing your inputs from PVEL’s standpoint, as they can best help the industry as a whole to keep offering higher-performing products with qualified reliability metrics that reduce the risk for institutional investors and long-term portfolio owners.

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PV ModuleTech 2018: Measuring new PV module technologies with Eternal Sun

Ahead of the forthcoming PV ModuleTech 2018 event in Penang, Malaysia on 23-24 October 2018, PV-Tech took the time to catch up with Pepijn Veling of Eternal Sun Group.

A key partner of the PV ModuleTech 2018 event, Eternal Sun Group includes both Eternal Sun (focusing on climate controlled steady-state light sources) and Spire Solar (focused on long-pulse simulators since 1980).

Which market needs are you trying to address at Eternal Sun Group?

“We see an increasing need from manufacturers, investors, EPCs and insurance companies to better understand the real performance of solar modules at different moments in time; end of manufacturing line, ownership transfer, installation and after the first years in the field.

Especially with the current oversupply and 20-25% drop in module prices due to the Chinese 531 policy, opportunities for downstream solar investments are massive. At the same time, lower module prices lead to fear for lower PV module quality among PV module buyers, who tell us they do not fully understand these new risks.

Investor confidence and risk mitigation are two of the biggest factors in allowing the growth of solar to continue. The winners in our industry will have the ability to forecast performance and degradation with smaller safety margins.”

How does Eternal Sun Spire address these concerns?

“Our mission is to contribute to the development and growth of the solar industry by enabling the highest degree of measurement control and certainty. We do this by providing high-end solar testing advice, technology & services.

Over the years we have developed testing tools for new PV module technologies (requiring broader spectrum and longer pulse), understanding energy yield in different regions and degradation effects like LID, LeTID but also regeneration; so, for testing new technologies, such as Perovskites, that require stabilization before performance testing. Our customers tell us that technology understanding and extremely accurate control of all variables (GR&R) is the only way to do this correctly.”

What were the main changes impacting business operations during 2017 and so far during 2018?

“After concluding the integration of the two companies in 2016, we spend most of 2017 developing three new products for 1) real long pulse performance testing (beyond 200ms), 2) energy rating and 3) LID of new technologies.

In 2018, the China 531 policy obviously puts the manufacturing market in China under huge pressure, however we are benefiting from our broad portfolio and global spread thus limiting the impact of China-531 on our strategic planning.

In fact, EPC customers tells us they fear module quality will drop along with the prices and therefore request us to support them, leading to new opportunities in our testing and certification market. It is for that reason that we opened a test lab ourselves in the harbor of Rotterdam in collaboration with Odin warehousing. 40% of all imported PV modules in Europe go through this specific location. EPC companies ask us to do a proper quality assessment before module ownership transfers to them.”

What are the impacts of new module technologies coming on the market?

“The whole industry agrees that new PV cell technologies require a longer pulse and a wider spectrum for accurate and real performance measurements. The new IEC 60904-9 Ed3 norm for sun simulators, of which committee we are member of, will include such new requirements. Leading institutes and manufacturers have recently decided for our single long pulse technology, because it allows them to do a real measurement of even the highest efficiency technologies.

Other simulator technologies like short pulsed xenon or LED (limited spectrum) are forced to use software or offset corrections. Such corrections are difficult to set and in the end lead to undesired inaccuracies.”

ESG has been very vocal on LID in recent communication. Why?

“PV module buyers tell us they have difficulties understanding manufacturer LID claims while manufactures need more data to prove their claims. We at ESG agree that LID is a difficult topic.

It is about being able to accurately understand degradation, regeneration and elevated temperature degradation effects of new technologies. As mentioned earlier, we believe that those companies understanding this will be the most successful in the future. We see that leading institutes and manufacturers are embracing our technical solutions, whereas others are awaiting IEC 61215 LeTID norm developments for guidance or rely on alternative (less accurate) solutions.”

What are you looking forward to learning at PV ModuleTech 2018?

“For us, such conferences are a great platform to challenge our solutions against real customer needs. We highly appreciate the broad customer range; both upstream and downstream key players were well represented last year. Understanding the needs of the whole value chain is crucial for this industry to bloom.” 

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Hanwha Q CELLS reveals solar module products to be assembled in the US

‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member Hanwha Q CELLS has revealed its ‘Made in America’ product strategy ahead of the 2018 Solar Power International (SPI) Exhibition being held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California next week.

The SMSL said that it planned to address the three core markets in the US, utility-scale, residential and commercial when its affiliate company Hanwha Q CELLS (Korea) starts module assembly operations on behalf of the SMSL in 2019 at a 1.6GW-plus plant in Whitfield County, Georgia. 

As PV Tech recently highlighted, the Georgia plant is expected to begin operations in February 2019.

Key US assembled modules will include its Q.PEAK DUO BLK-G6 series, a follow-on development from the recently launched Q.PEAK DUO-G5 series, which won an Intersolar Award 2018.

The US made module will use P-type monocrystalline half-cut cells with at least six bus bars on its proprietary ‘Q.ANTUM’ PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology, which was said to have approximately 5% more output than the G5 series that is currently in the 330Wp range and used in residential and commercial rooftop sectors. These come with white or black backsheet configurations and is the core existing product offering in the US market.

The US utility-scale markets will be served by the Q.PLUS DUO L-G5.2, a P-type multicrystalline solar module with half-cut cells that has a maximum output of up to 370Wp in a 144-cell format.

In the future, Hanwha Q CELLS will introduce a US-centric version of its recently launched European Q.HOME+ ESS HYB-G2 system, which adds an inverter, scalable battery and smart energy management system for residential applications. 

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TÜV Rheinland certifies New-Tek’s solar module assembly plant in Kyrgyzstan

PV module assembly firm New-Tek in Kyrgyzstan has received TÜV Rheinland certifications related to IEC 61215:2016 and IEC 61730:2016 standards on module reliability. 

New-Tek opened its 50MW module assembly plant at the end of 2016, which was supplied as a turnkey plant by German-based PV equipment specialist, SCHMID Group. 

Dr. Eckart Janknecht, Project Manager for photovoltaic module qualifications at TÜV Rheinland said, “These certifications require a large number of intensive tests in our Cologne laboratory, such as mechanical, electrical, climatic and safety tests.

TÜV Rheinland noted that local Kyrgyzstan climate conditions were taken into account when undertaking the range of reliability tests, such as the hot summers and cold winters as well as the daily temperature fluctuations as part of new climate test sequences, according to IEC 61215:2016. 

Aside to the laboratory tests, on-site inspection of the manufacturing was also mandatory for certification, which includes checking that the manufacturer actually produces what has been tested by TÜV Rheinland and whether basic quality monitoring of the photovoltaic modules takes place and whether general quality requirements (based on ISO 9001) are met.

“With the exception of minor deviations that were subsequently corrected, production ran smoothly and the modules passed the tests without any problems,” added Dr. Janknecht.

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Endeas highlights I-V curve measurement issues with high-efficiency PV modules

PV module equipment measurement specialist Endeas Oy has developed a new method to measure the steady-state I-V curves in PV modules using high-efficiency solar cells such as PERC, and especially HJT or IBC as solar simulators currently in production applications have limited accuracy, according to the company.

Endeas noted that when measuring I-V curves and maximum power of high-efficiency PV modules, inaccuracies can be discovered, due to the charging of the cells, which leads to a significant underestimation of the maximum power by typical flash testers. 

The company noted that increasing the flash pulse length to overcome the issue becomes expensive and comes with additional problems, such as heating of the module during measurement.

Endeas said it had developed a new method to counter the issues. Its Capacitance Compensation (CAC) technique is said to measure the steady-state I-V curve and maximum power of any PV cell or module based on a single flash pulse of only 40 ms. The method is included in its QuickSun 600 system, an all-in-one module testing station.

The Capacitance Compensation method will be presented at the EU PVSEC conference in Brussels on 24 September 2018 by Dr. Henri Vahlman, a scientist at Endeas.

“PV manufacturers are understandably requesting longer and longer flash pulses. They are aware that the maximum power of their high-efficiency products may be underestimated by their current solar simulators, leading them to sell their products at a lower price than necessary”, said Jaakko Hyvärinen, managing director of Endeas. “The new CAC method is perfectly suited for power measurements in PV manufacturing, as measurement results comparable to steady-state solar simulators can be provided for any PV technology with compact and proven flash testers that are straightforward to integrate into a manufacturing line.”

Endeas said that the CAC method was based on measuring the capacitance (ability to store electric charge) of the tested device during the flash pulse. The measured capacitance was taken into account in processing the measurement data, resulting in more accurate steady-state I-V curves and maximum power measurements, according to the company.

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JinkoSolar claims immunity from industry woes as 2018 shipment guidance remains unchanged

Leading ‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member JinkoSolar has reported higher than guided second quarter PV module shipments and reiterated total shipments guidance to be in the range of 11.5GW to 12GW in 2018. 

The SMSL reported total PV module shipments of 2,794MW, up from 2,015MW in the previous quarter and the second highest quarterly record, which was set (2,884MW) in the prior year quarter. The company had previously guided shipments for the second quarter of 2018 to be in the range of 2.4GW to 2.5GW.

Kangping Chen, JinkoSolar’s Chief Executive Officer commented, “We delivered a strong quarter with module shipments hitting 2,794 MW while generating total revenue of US$915.9 million. Leveraging our cutting-edge technologies, strong global sales network, and industry leading cost structure, I’m confident in our ability to generate sustainable profits and growth going forward.”

“Growth during the quarter was strong and we expect this momentum to continue into the second half of the year despite the impact from the new policies issued by the Chinese government on May 31 as shipments to overseas markets are expected to continue growing and account for an increasing proportion of our shipments. We believe these new policies will have a relatively limited impact on our operations over the short-term and are optimistic about our future prospects. We expect demand from Top Runner Program, poverty alleviation projects, local government subsidies, and self-contained DG projects to continue to drive the growth in the Chinese market, especially in regions with ample sunlight and high commercial power prices.”

“We already have good visibility of our order book for the entire year which is predominantly made up of overseas orders to markets which are growing rapidly and will generate significant opportunities ahead. We are taking full advantage of our market leading position and production facility in Florida to expand our presence in the US market. Demand in emerging markets continues to grow, especially in Latin American and the Middle East and North Africa. We are devoting our resources there towards securing large long-term orders through our mature sales network which spans a number of markets there. We believe the Indian solar sector will maintain its long-term growth trajectory despite the short-term impact of recently announced tariffs and will continue to explore opportunities there.”

JinkoSolar reported a lower gross margin of 12.0%, compared with 14.4% in the first quarter of 2018. This was due to Average Selling Price (ASP) declines.

Total revenue in the quarter was US$915.9 million, an increase of 32.7% from the first quarter of 2018.

Gross profit in the second quarter of 2018 was US$110.0 million, compared with US$104.6 million in the first quarter of 2018. Income from operations was US$14.3 million, compared with US$19.9 million in the first quarter of 2018.

Manufacturing update

JinkoSolar said that its nameplate capacities remain unchanged quarter-on-quarter. As of June 30, 2018, the SMSL’s in-house annual silicon wafer capacity remained at 9GW, while solar cell capacity remained at 5GW and solar module production capacity also remained at 9GW.

The company had previously guided wafer capacity would reach 9.7GW in 2018, along with 6GW of cell capacity and 10.5GW of module assembly capacity.

“We continued to develop high-efficiency technologies while optimizing the cost structure of our products,” added Chen. “We made significant progress in improving wafer efficiency and reducing both oxygen content and light induced degradation. We are increasing our mono PREC cell capacity which will reach 4.2GW by the end of year. We are also investing in N type technology, especially HOT double sided cell technology. The falling cost of raw materials and our deep experience in rapidly rolling out new technologies will allow us to further optimize our cost structure going forward and help us increase market share by providing clients with high-efficiency products at cost effective prices.”

Guidance

JinkoSolar expects total solar module shipments in the third quarter of 2018 to be in the range of 2.8GW to 3.0GW, which could be a new company and industry quarterly shipment record.

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N-type solar cell production to exceed 5GW in 2018 with 135% growth since 2013

As the solar industry has grown from a 50GW market to 100GW in just a few years, the desire to have differentiated production has increased, especially for companies entering the market or repositioning strategies.

Having a product offering that is either higher efficiency or lower cost is always a good way to extract funds to build new manufacturing capacity, and the solar industry has seen plenty of efforts in this regard.

Sadly, most attempts to do this in the past have failed, characterized by the equipment-supply-chain driven turn-key a:Si phase and the days when new entrants were arriving in the industry like there was no tomorrow, and many venture capitalists were left to count the losses.

During the past 2-3 years, the focus has returned to n-type cell variants, and this has been accompanied by no shortage of marketing fervour and aspirational claims. However, when we unpick the facts from the fiction, and track the reality of production, we can see definite upward trends that will surely sustain excitement and investment levels going forward.

For the first time, this article reveals exactly how much n-type production is coming from this segment of the PV industry, further categorizing this into the three sub-categories of n-type technology: back-contact, heterojunction, and all-others.

The underlying data comes from analysis compiled by our in-house research team at PV-Tech, and is available within our PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report releases.

What this all means for n-type module availability – and related panel performance, quality, reliability and company/technology due-diligence for utility-scale solar – forms part of our pending PV ModuleTech 2018 conference in Penang, Malaysia, on 23-24 October 2018.

Why n-type?

For users of solar panels, talking about minority carrier lifetimes or surface recombination velocities – or indeed anything that sounds more like physics than return-on-investment – is largely misplaced.

Of course it is important to understand the physics, especially if you are pushing the boundaries in terms of advanced cell processing, but when it comes down to developers and EPCs, the arguments for n-type can be summed up better as follows.

n-type solar cell substrates are intrinsically higher performing. Cell efficiencies are well above the industry-standard of recent years (p-type multi), and as a result, panel powers (like for like panel sizes, at STC) offer gains of many tens of Watts. This clearly offers space-related benefits which translate positively to any LCOE calculation based on reduced system capex/BoS-costs.

Additionally, n-type offers vastly superior elevated temperature performance, compared to all p-type options (both mono and multi). Here n-type shares temperature-dependent power coefficients with thin-film panels, such as First Solar’s. Considering especially that utility-scale solar plants (and indeed almost any solar panels under direct sunlight) generally perform at temperatures well above STC conditions, there is an argument for every comparison of solar panels to be done at 70 degrees.

n-type substrates are also less prone to various degradation mechanisms, which – given manufacturing quality, testing and repeatability – translates directly into reliability and lifetime performance (return-on-investment).

The above issues are not new by any means. However, it is interesting to see many of the new n-type entrants in the past few years trying to explain these clearly, while at the same time seeking to ramp new production lines and understand simply how to get production lines to targeted efficiencies, yields and distribution goals.

Until now, the only issues holding back n-type being the mainstream choice in the solar industry have been production levels (trending in the 5% of annual demand ballpark) and manufacturing costs (including wafer availability). As such, this explains why everyone in the solar industry needs to keep a close eye on n-type companies, investments and expansion plans, and is fundamentally behind the long-term view held by many that n-type market-share gains will only increase year-by-year for quite some time.

Why can’t n-type benefit from economy-of-scale seen by p-type?

Currently, the PV industry is basking in the glory of having moved p-type multi solar cells from 3 to 5 busbars, in adding a passivation layer to the rear side of p-type mono cells (the PERC cell), and in driving down production costs to allow selling a module at 35c/W with small (positive) gross margins.

However, the p-type community – though a combination of the above and other less-publicized issues – has collectively taken p-type cell efficiencies from 15-18% to 18-21% over a five-year period, representing a phase in the industry that is one of the most productive and helpful to developers and EPCs.

At this point, one should point out that previous estimates (mainly from the research community or early adopters) of where p-type performance could max-out in mass production have largely been exceeded. Indeed, at our PV CellTech 2018 meeting back in March, leading multi-GW p-type cell manufacturers were each showing roadmaps to take p-type mono average cell efficiencies to 22-23% within the next couple of years.

I recall at PV CellTech asking none other than Prof. Martin Green of UNSW what had surprised him most about the current cell performance levels seen in a 100-GW-scale PV industry, and one of the replies was based around the fact that nobody had imagined the performance gains that could be attributed from mass-production learning.

Therefore, the obvious question to ask is: what is possible from n-type production, if it was to scale to 10GW or 100GW? Currently, performance levels of n-type (especially IBC and HJT) are industry-leading, but how much more is out there compared to the GW-max seen at any one producer today? Of course, should IBC/HJT (or hybrid variants thereof) move to this level of production, then by default the industry will have addressed the supply and cost challenges that exist today.

So, one should perhaps not look too closely at the decreasing delta between p-type mono PERC (at the 30GW+ production level, and with a cost structure heavily blended with p-type multi output) and n-type cells, as the comparison is not on a level playing field. The question should be: how do these cell concepts compare when each has tens of GW production across 5-10 key producers?

In the meantime, let’s return now to n-type growth within the industry today.

From 2GW to 5GW annual production in five years

Until a few years ago, the PV industry had just a few companies making n-type solar panels, with efforts spread across three ‘different’ approaches: back-contacted solar cells (or interdigitated back contact, IBC), front-contacted with doped/intrinsic thin a-Si (passivation) layers (heterojunction), and n-type designs that are more analogous to regular p-type solar cell processing but have rear passivation/diffusion.

SunPower is well-known for being the proponent of IBC cells, benchmarking premium performance levels across all n-type (and everything else) on the market. IBC processed cells remain market-leading today by some margin.

Panasonic inherited Sanyo’s heterojunction facilities in Japan and Malaysia, and for some time was the only company offering this technology. As I will discuss below in the article, other companies have now entered this segment of n-type solar manufacturing. 

Heterojunction (or HJT) performance has slightly lower performance levels, compared to IBC, but offers higher powers than other n-type variants. The strengths of HJT can also be blended back-contacting of course, but as yet this is R&D only, and not close to mass production.

The ‘other n-type’ grouping has seen some pilot-line activity in the past, but saw its first real efforts to move into mass production about 10 years ago, when Yingli Green Energy ramped up several production lines through a technology-transfer with European research institute ECN (the ‘Panda’ offering from Yingli). During the past few years however, this technology class has seen the greatest level of competition, in particular arising from the success of LG Electronics in South Korea, and subsequently spreading across several new companies located in China.

The net result of the new capital investments has seen the number of (meaningful) n-type cell producers grow to approximately 20, with many others engaged at the R&D level also, or working with research institutes on collaborative projects. Consequently, global cell production of n-type has grown from the 2GW-level in 2013 to what is projected to be more than 5GW this year. This is shown in the figure below:

LG Electronics became leading n-type producer by MW in 2017

Almost under the radar, and without any great fanfare, LG Electronics likely moved into the leading position in the PV industry sometime during 2017, producing more n-type capacity than any other company. Much of this has arisen from the company’s aggressive capacity expansions in South Korea during the past couple of years, stimulated by the US market in a pre-Section-201 world.

When looking more closely at LG Electronics’s specific process flow for its n-type cells, one can see some other trends that are characterizing the n-type segment as a whole, many of which have not found compatibility with mainstream p-type cell production.

Currently, with the exception of a few Chinese new-entrants, all n-type producers have some form of differentiation, ranging from the likes of SunPower (whose lines are entirely in-house IP-owned) to LG Electronics (multi-wires and ion implanting) to others that may have bifaciality as standard or (like SunPower) have worked out how to use wafers below 120 microns thick. This segment is also the first to use thin wafers and have copper (not silver) for electrical collection.

n-type benefits from European/Western equipment suppliers

A large part of the growth success of n-type production in the past few years can be tracked directly to the involvement of equipment suppliers, with many of the leading European companies having process knowledge exceeding the customer base they are serving: Meyer Burger, INDEOtec, SCHMID, Von Ardenne, Singulus, Tempress/Amtech. Japanese know-how – courtesy of legacy engagement with Sanyo in Japan – has somewhat permeated out of companies such as ULVAC and Sumitomo Heavy Industries and exists in various forms through affiliated or licenced partnering companies in Asia today. Companies previously selling PCV/PECVD tools for a:Si deposition (ULVAC, Applied Materials, Jusung) are obviously placed to have an impact also.

Walking around many of the new n-type lines in operation today across Asia and Europe will likely feature equipment from many of the above companies. The n-type segment (in particular for HJT and all-others including n-PERT/bifacial variants) is yet to consolidate around a standardized process flow however, and is still one that Chinese tool suppliers believe they can address should multi-GW be added from 2019 onwards during the next phase of n-type expansions.

Removing wafer availability concerns

Previously, n-type production was seen to have certain limitations, in particular from being reliant on mono ingot pulling which until recent years had been relatively niche. Indeed, had it not been for LONGi and Zhonghuan, it could be argued that this same limitation would apply, with 5-inch wafers for n-type cell production being in short-supply and priced 15-20% above regular wafer offerings from the likes of GCL-Poly.

However, all this changed with the expansions from LONGi and Zhonghuan making mono pulling a 10-20GW company-operations, and taking production costs to levels that previous wafer suppliers in Asia could never have reached (for any mono wafers, not just for n-type cell production).

Almost overnight, mono wafer supply has become commoditized, and one could almost argue today that wafer-supply to n-type is a net-positive, not a stumbling block. Currently, wafer supply for n-type producers is mainly available on-demand, with a decision on number of pullers using boron or phosphorous dopants. The supply of wafers for n-type cell production is not likely to go into over-supply in the near future, but given the hunger for leading Chinese mono wafer suppliers to dominate the market, one can conclude also that should a few additional GW of n-type be produced even in 2019, the supply-chain will meet this demand from China.

Heterojunction still the front-runner for most new entrants

While the graphic above may not suggest it, HJT is where the focus is today for much of the new investments into n-type across China, Taiwan and Europe/Russia. Many of these companies are ramping new lines now, and success here will show more clearly in production data going forward, and less so when looking at the 2013-2018 window.

The drivers are varied. For many of the Chinese companies, having a panel with ‘Panasonic-type’ quality/performance is clearly something many would love to have today, and there remains a belief that if they can match cell efficiencies in mass production, then they can address the Achilles-heel for Panasonic and Sanyo in the past: production cost.

For others, the move to HJT may be as simple as needing to repurpose legacy a-Si investments (e.g. Hevel Solar, 3Sun/Enel) and seeing HJT as the natural c-Si based path.

With the strong R&D being undertaken by tool suppliers such as Meyer Burger and INDEOtec, the prospects for HJT moving to multi-GW scale with a competitive cost structure are good.

PV ModuleTech and PV CellTech remain the go-to check-points for n-type

For the past few years at PV CellTech, we have focused on the plans for new cell production for n-type capacity, as especially HJT variants. This has proved invaluable in providing a glimpse at what may come through in mass production 2-3 years out, at which point most of the downstream community have real choices to make based on new module suppliers and technologies.

While this captures much of the reasoning behind the PV CellTech event, PV ModuleTech looks at how this impacts on module supply today, in terms of company strengths, product quality, and bankability. As such, this year’s PV ModuleTech 2018 event in Penang (23-24 October 2018) will be a great place for global developers and EPCs to understand exactly what the supply of n-type modules will look like in 2018.

For many, it will be simply keeping track of a module technology that could impact on their solar strategies from 2020 onwards. For others, it offers immediate benefits, assuming selection of module supplier and technologies meet necessary due-diligence and bankability requirements.

For more details on how to attend PV ModuleTech 2018, please follow this link.

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Meyer Burger supplying ‘SmartWire’ tools for heterojunction module assembly plant in Southeast Asia

Leading PV manufacturing equipment supplier Meyer Burger has secured an order for its ‘SmartWire Connection Technology’ (SWCT) from an international solar module manufacturer in Southeast Asia for use with heterojunction (HJ) solar cells.

Meyer Burger said that delivery and installation of its SWCT technology was planned towards the end of 2018 and expected the commissioning and ramp-up of the 200MW solar module production line in the first half of 2019.

PV Tech has recently highlighted that Meyer Burger’s SWCT technology had been adopted by new HJ entrants, transitioning from amorphous silicon thin-film module production to HJ, such as 3Sun in Italy and Hevel in Russia and previously Ecosolifer in Hungary as the technology is a low-temperature interconnect solution, which is required for HJ cells because of the use of a-Si TCO layers on the front and backside of the cell.

The technology has also been adopted by integrated c-Si PV module manufacturer REC Group, which has its wafer, cell and module manufacturing operations in Singapore.

Meyer Burger has also recently announced that Panasonic had decided to fast-track the evaluation of its SWCT technology in an effort to boost its cell and module performance. 

Panasonic has a module assembly plant in Malaysia, supplied with HJ solar cells from Panasonic’s dedicated solar cell plant in Japan as well as contract manufacturing for Tesla in the US.

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