The third annual PV CellTech conference takes place in Penang, Malaysia on 13-14 March 2018, and this year’s event has been structured to explain exactly what is happening with the multi-GW expansion plans for high-efficiency cell concepts, across the industry’s established producers and the wave of new entrants that are seeking to influence cell availability in 2018 and beyond.

This article discusses why solar cell technology (now at the 100GW-plus annual production level) is moving at a faster rate than seen before, and the factors driving the entire industry to hit or exceed the 20% efficiency mark over the next couple of years.

Change agents and how technology became a strategic must

The move to high-efficiency cell performance has been faster in the past couple of years than seen before in the PV industry, with the main driver coming for the first time from China, in the form of increased mono wafer supply and increasing thresholds for module efficiency/power levels.

In this respect, our in-house research team at PV-Tech has just undertaken a fresh look at solar cell forecasting for the next five years, out to 2023, and we have reclassified cell production categories.

The results of this new analysis are shown below. We have restructured our seven key c-Si categories across n-type and p-type into two basic groups: high-efficiency, and low-efficiency, shown as HE and LE. While the threshold for this differentiation nudges up every year, one can simply think about this as a 20% average cell efficiency level (at multi-GW production levels).

Back in 2013, the high-efficiency segment was largely a niche offering, dominated by SunPower and Panasonic. While the efficiencies from these company’s panels were well above the rest of the industry, it afforded them ASP premiums, especially on rooftops.

However, this is now well in the past, and within the next few years, the delta for the highest performing cells/modules will be marginal, and likely more brand related, than performance driven.

The implications for the above efficiency transition are far greater however than module ASPs. These trends – coupled with diamond wire sawing – are having a major impact on polysilicon g/W consumption (more on this shortly on PV-Tech) and polysilicon quality (as legacy solar grade becomes a distant memory).

Another factor coming out of the above forecast is an industry that essentially has bifaciality as a standard add-on, across almost all c-Si companies. While those being the early movers now may claim exclusivity, it will quickly be commonplace, similar to having PERC modules.

Companies speaking at PV CellTech 2018

In determining the topics, agenda and companies speaking at this year’s PV CellTech conference in Penang on 13-14 March 2018, we looked closely at the companies and technologies that are driving the rapid change in solar cell manufacturing.

While there are still a few hundred companies at the cell manufacturing stage, in theory, there are certain similarities in terms of how the different companies operate, from a technology standpoint. Therefore, the key goal for the two-day event at PV CellTech was to identify and confirm the key movers and influencers for the broader cell manufacturing community as a whole.

The list of major cell producers speaking at PV CellTech 2018 is shown below, with the cell manufacturing locations shown beside each company for reference.

Rather than filling the event with 15-20 cell producers in China all doing the same thing (p-type mono PERC, half-cut R&D and pilot-line bifacial module availability), we have leading companies from across the following major trends:

• Multi-GW level pure-play cell manufacturing (e.g. Aiko Solar)
• New GW-level n-type cell fabs (e.g. Jinergy, Jolywood)
• Leading n-type cell producers (outside legacy SunPower and Panasonic efforts), including LG Electronics and Yingli Green
• The main cell producers from outside China, including India (Adani Solar and Indosolar) and Vietnam (Boviet Solar)
• The main cell producers with facilities in Southeast Asia (Canadian Solar, JA Solar, JinkoSolar, LONGi Solar); a continued pertinent issue amidst evolving trade cases
• The last major surviving cell producer outside of China/ASEAN territories: SolarWorld
• The leading drivers for p-type multi resilience and efficiency gains (e.g. Canadian Solar)

The agenda – online here – shows the sessions these companies will be speaking on, with PV CellTech once again commanding speaker participation in the form of CTOs and Heads-of-R&D/Technology.

Other speakers for PV CellTech 2018 come from the leading wafer suppliers across mono and multi (GCL Poly and LONGi Solar), and key research institutes that have been pivotal in transferring high-efficiency process flows into GW-scale factories. The two days also features most of the leading equipment and material suppliers to cell production today.

New features for PV CellTech 2018 will include a star-studded session on the future of PV manufacturing, and a session on cell cost/price and margins and the viability of cell manufacturing outside China and Southeast Asia. This topic has been requested for the past couple of years, and the relevance is far reaching as some companies review new cell capacity in trade-free locations; or simply justified based on the availability of n-type wafers and price levels relative to p-mono.

Getting involved with PV CellTech 2018

Similar to the past couple of years, PV CellTech will undoubtedly provide everyone with their annual fill of real-world solar cell manufacturing trends and technology drivers for the next 12 months.

From a manufacturing education standpoint, the event is without a parallel in the industry today. For networking, it offers a blend of participants that can’t be beat. To register to attend PV CellTech 2018, in Penang, Malaysia, on 13-14 March 2018, please follow this link.

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