Category: News

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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SNEC 2018: Panasonic evaluating Meyer Burger’s ‘SmartWire’ technology for heterojunction cells

Leading PV manufacturing equipment supplier Meyer Burger has said that the pioneer of heterojunction solar cell technology, Panasonic has decided to fast-track the evaluation of its ‘SmartWire Connection Technology’ (SWCT) in an effort to boost its cell and module performance. 

Meyer Burger’s ‘SmartWire’ technology has already been adopted by new entrants, transitioning from amorphous silicon thin-film module production to heterojunction, as the technology is a low-temperature solution, required for HJ cells using a-Si TCO layers on the front and backside of the cell.

However, the technology is also said to reduce silver consumption per heterojunction solar module by over 50%, which in turn reduces production costs for the relatively expensive HJ modules. 

The dense wire contact matrix of the SWCT technology can support increased power extraction necessary for today’s high efficiency heterojunction solar cells, providing an increased performance yield and improved stability and long-term reliability.

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SNEC 2018: DuPont surprises with transparent backsheet for bifacial modules

Major PV materials provider DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions has launched the first transparent PV module backsheet material, specifically for bifacial solar modules at SNEC International Photovoltaic Power Generation and Smart Energy Exhibition, being held in Shanghai, China this week. 

Currently, bifacial solar cells were seen to require a glass/glass encapsulation to provide light to the rear cell, eliminating traditional backsheet materials used extensively for mono-facial modules. DuPont has been a long-term major supplier of its ‘Tedlar’ materials for backsheet production in the solar industry. 

DuPont noted that the breathable, clear ‘Tedlar’ PVF film based backsheets allow higher reliability, lower operating temperature, compared to glass/glass bifacial modules, as well as being 30% lighter.  

The clear ‘Tedlar’ PVF film is expected to be a drop-in with most current manufacturing processes for backsheets and modules with little if any additional investment in equipment needed for most manufacturing processes, according to DuPont.
The company has also been collaborating behind the scenes with one of the world’s largest solar energy installers, Huanghe Hydropower Development Co., Ltd. (HHSD), a leading clean energy subsidiary of State Power Investment Cooperation (SPIC) of China and a relatively small PV manufacturer in its own right. 

DuPont said that A 72-cell, high-power, bifacial module protected by the clear ‘Tedlar’ PVF film-based backsheet would be featured at its booth at SNEC. SPIC is currently evaluating the performance and longevity of the new clear backsheet as part of SPIC’s real-world, large-scale PV power plant testing facility of equipment and components in Qinghai province, China.

DuPont also launched a new front side silver metallization paste, ‘Solamet’ PV21x, which is designed to enhance most mainstream cell technologies. ‘Solamet’ PV21x was said to deliver better contact performance and high aspect ratios that enable cell efficiency enhancement >0.1% and maintains high throughput in mass production. 

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ISC Konstanz signs n-type bifacial and IBC cell technology transfer to Valoe for commercialisation

The International Solar Energy Research Center Konstanz e.V. (ISC Konstanz) has signed a technology transfer agreement with PV module assembly equipment supplier based in Finland for R&D centre’s advanced ‘BiSoN’ (Bifacial Solar cell On N-type) and ZEBRA (diffused n-type IBC) solar cell technology.

Valoe noted that it had acquired a solar cell production line from Megacell S.r.l., which was under liquidation, and a producer of bifacial n-PERT solar cells in Italy based on the ISC Konstanz technology.

Dr. Radovan Kopecek, CTO at ISC Konstanz and Managing Director of Advanced Cell Concepts: “We are very pleased to continue assisting you in developing ZEBRA further. Together with Valoe´s back contact module technology such a module using ZEBRA is very powerful at low costs. Valoe has, as one of the first companies in the world, developed a mass scale module manufacturing technology which makes the implementation of back contact solar cells into the module extremely simple, cost effective and with high yield. Further, Valoe’s technology makes it possible to use thinner solar cells. The PV market is now ready for such modules build on IBC cell technology for many new applications.”

Valoe also noted that it planned to transfer part of the production line to PV manufacturer Soli Tek Cells’ production facility in Lithuania to undertake volume production of IBC solar cells for customers of Valoe, sometime in 2019.

ZEBRA based IBC cells have reach conversion efficiencies of more than 23% and module efficiencies would be supported Valoe’s unique back contact module technology that can also handle ultra-thin N-type mono wafers, lowering production costs. 

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Wuxi Suntech providing half-cut cell modules to European customers

China-based integrated PV module manufacturer Wuxi Suntech Power Co said it had started supplying high-performance multicrystalline half-cut cell modules to European customers, offering power classes of 295/290W. 

The addition of the half-cut multi c-Si cell technology comes on the back of production in 2017 of its in-house developed metal assisted chemical etching (MACE) texturing process (black silicon) for diamond wire sawing, which was claimed to provide an absolute efficiency gain of up to 0.3%, compared with the additive direct texturing process.

Wuxi Suntech said that its half-cut cell technology enabled module power outputs of 5W to 10W higher than standard 156mm x 156mm multi c-Si, 60-cell module formats, reducing system costs with higher module efficiency. 

Module performance was also said to have been improved because of cell current losses by 50% with half-cut cell technology and cell temperature operation dropping by 20~25℃ compared to conventional modules, according to the company. 

The half-cut cell modules also use a distributed junction box design, with power loss reduced, due to a cross layout installation, noted Wuxi Suntech.

Shuangquan He, President of Wuxi Suntech said, “In the past 18 years, Suntech focused on cutting-edge technology innovation and provided high-quality and cost-effective products to our global partners. Now, we have cooperated with VDE for quality inspection certificate, VDE-QT, and continue to monitor the quality in quarterly mass production. At the same time, Suntech offered an industry-leading 12-year product warranty and a 25-year linear performance warranty reinsured by world-leading reinsurance company – Munich Re.

The company also noted that it offered WEEE recycling solutions for European customers. 

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LONGi restarts stalled solar cell and module manufacturing plans in India

Leading integrated high-efficiency monocrystalline module manufacturer and ‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member LONGi Green Energy Technology has officially reignited previously suspended manufacturing plans in Andhra Pradesh, India. 

LONGi said that it would invest US$309 million, including around US$240 million in constructing a new facility with an initial nameplate capacity of 1,000MW of monocrystalline solar cells and expand its mothballed 500MW module assembly plant to 1GW. 

The completed construction and start of production ramp of the new solar cell facility was expected in January 2020, while the expanded module assembly plant is expected to be completed and production ramp occur by the end of August 2019.

LONGi had previously suspended the entire project in 2017, due to delays in gaining funding for the project in India and has decided to split funding between the parent company and its previously established Indian subsidiary, by Lerri Solar Technology (India) Private Ltd, which is 40% owned by LONGi and 60% owned by LONGi Solar. 

“The expansion of our Andhra Pradesh factory is part of LONGi’s global growth strategy. While global demand for solar modules continues to grow, LONGi is making moderate capacity investments in select markets to hedge against the risks of trade protectionism, while remaining focused on the Chinese domestic market,” said Mr. Wenxue Li, the president of LONGi Solar. “According to preliminary estimates, the new expansion will support $380 million in annual sales and roughly $19 million in net profit every year.”

The company recently announced the tripling of ingot and wafer production through 2020 at its multiple manufacturing sites in China and its acquired facility in Malaysia. 

However, missing from the cell and module expansion announcement in India were plans to build wafering operations in India, which critically lacks this segment of the upstream manufacturing supply chain. 

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Trina Solar surpasses 9GW of solar module shipments in 2017

‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member Trina Solar has said it shipped over 9GW of PV modules globally in 2017, confirming its second place position in PV Tech’s Top-10 Module Suppliers annual rankings. 

The SMSL noted in a statement on its website that module shipments for the first three quarters of 2017 were 1,966MW, 2,481MW and 2,092MW, respectively. As a result fourth quarter shipments would have peaked at over 2,500MW. Trina Solar said that accumulated module shipments had exceeded 32GW.

Key markets for Trina Solar in 2017 were China, India and the US, while its global footprint is one of the broadest in the industry, highlighted by the fact it said it shipped and had distributed products to more than 100 countries. 

Trina Solar also retains its in-house solar power projects business, which constructs, operates and has sold projects in China, the UK, the US and other European and Asian countries.

The SMSL also noted that it had shipped over 3GW of modules to India in recent years, accounting for more than a 25% market share, according to company.

However, the China market has remained its largest market in the last few years. The company noted that in August, 2017 it launched its residential PV brand – ‘TrinaHome’ in China, which it claimed has quickly taking leading market position in the Distributed Generation market. 

The Company also noted that it was implementing the ‘One-Million Rooftop Plan’ over the course of the next five years to provide the Trina residential PV system installation service for more than one million households.
Trina Solar’s commercial projects were said to have achieved 500% growth with businesses covering 20 Chinese provinces and cities nationally, with strategic plans over the next three years in developing around 1,000 commercial partners to achieve over 10 million system sales.

PV Tech’s ‘Top-10 Module Suppliers in 2017’ has recently been published and has in recent years become the most widely accepted benchmark of leading global solar module shipment rankings in the industry and also remains the key metric for market share leadership and positioning.

Currently, the SMSL membership is made-up of seven companies identified in the past 12-18 months as the companies that were expected to be in the 4GW-plus annual shipment level in 2017, forming an exclusive grouping. 

SMSLs are also characterised by having several gigawatts of manufacturing capacity and shipments separating them from all other suppliers, including several companies that were included in the 2017 Top 10 rankings. 

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LONGi Solar takes P-type monocrystalline PERC module to verified 20.41% conversion efficiency

‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member LONGi Solar, a subsidiary of LONGI Green Energy Technology, the largest monocrystalline wafer producer in the world has reported that TUV-SUD has verified its P-type monocrystalline PERC module to have a conversion efficiency of 20.41%, a new industry record.

PV Tech previously reported that LONGi Solar had reached a world record conversion efficiency for a P-type monocrystalline PERC solar cell, certified by CPVT in China at 22.17% in April 2017 and in October the same year had Fraunhofer ISE CalLab in Germany verify other cells at a new record efficiency of 22.71%.

Further gains were reported less than two weeks later when the company reported a conversion efficiency of 23.26%, breaching the industry-accepted limit of 23% for a mass produced PERC cell.

Li Wenxue, President of LONGi Solar said, “The new world record for the conversion efficiency of LONGi Solar’s monocrystalline PERC module is the first major breakthrough in module efficiency. Through continuous technological innovations, we will bring more efficient monocrystalline module products to the market to help PV investors earn more power generation benefits and contribute to the cause for clean water and blue sky.”

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LONGi tripling monocrystalline wafer capacity to 45GW

Leading fully-integrated high-efficiency monocrystalline module manufacturer and ‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member LONGi Green Energy Technology has set a strategic plan to triple monocrystalline ingot and wafer capacity to 45GW in 2020. 

LONGi said in a financial filing that it achieved 15GW of monocrystalline wafer nameplate capacity by the end of 2017, up 2GW from previous plans as the company accelerated production ramps to meet demand. 

The new strategic plan, which is not a commitment to investors that it would action the plans and commit to the significant capital expenditures required, includes taking wafer capacity to 28GW by the end of 2018 and 36GW by the end of 2019. LONGi also said that the plan was to achieve 45GW by the end of 2020. 

PV Tech had previously reported that LONGi was fast-tracking various ingot and wafer expansion plans currently under construction and pulling in projects nearing completion where possible. 

In 2017, LONGi was undertaking the construction of a 5GW ingot production plant in Lijiang, China. The company also announced in early 2017 that Trina Solar and Tongwei, via its polysilicon subsidiary, Sichuan Yongxiang were to form a Joint Venture (JV) to own and operate the facility. LONGi also planned a 5GW ingot/wafer plant in Baoshan, China. 

The company had also expected to complete and have begun operating a 1GW wafer plant in Kuching, Malaysia at the end of the year. 

A 1GW ingot production plant in Ningxia was also expected to have started production in the fourth quarter of 2017.

As a result, LONGi’s target of 28GW of ingot/wafer nameplate capacity by the end of 2018 looks highly plausible. The tripling of capacity to 45GW would require a significant round of investments in the multi-billion dollar range.  

Reasons behind the wafer capacity expansion

As PV Tech has previously reported, Finlay Colville, Head of Solar Intelligence at Solar Media has projected that monocrystalline solar cell production is expected to account for 49% of all crystalline cell production in 2018 and become the dominant technology used in the PV industry by 2019, driven by LONGi.

The company is both supporting its own in-house cell and module capacity expansions but the key is its support for other monocrystalline solar cell production capacity expansions from merchant cell producers such as Aiko Solar and Tongwei Group as well as module manufacturers such as SMSL member, Trina Solar. 

LONGi has also been making significant investments in R&D, which is driving monocrystalline ingot and wafer technology efficiency and cost reduction strategies to further the adoption of monocrystalline products. 

R&D spending at LONGi puts it in the top league of industry spenders, which include CdTe thin-film leader, First Solar and high-efficiency cell and module leader, SunPower, according to PV Tech’s annual R&D spending report. 

The ingot and wafer capacity expansions go hand in hand with technology advancements at the R&D level, with the expected result that mono technology continues to expand market share and become the lowest cost high-efficiency end-products on the market. In 2017 for expample, LONGi ‘s production of P-type mono-facial PERC cell efficiency, as well as bifacial PERC cell front side efficiency, had reached 21.3% on average.

Although LONGi’s strategy is to retain its market leading position and be a global supplier, end market demand in China is also increasing and growth is expected to continue, notably for high-efficiency modules due to the ‘Top Runner’ program and the significant growth in the Distributed Generation (DG) market. 

Recent official figures put China’s solar installations at around 52.83GW in 2017, up from 34.54GW in 2016. China therefore accounted for around 50% of the global solar market in 2017. 

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