Author: PV-Tech

PV CellTech 2019 agenda to provide clarity on diverse cell technology roadmaps and investments

Technology investments into advanced PV cell manufacturing have been at record levels in the past few years, with high-efficiency concepts seeing investment levels not seen since the days of turn-key thin-film lines a decade ago.

The days of simply adding a new factory with mainstream p-type multi Al-BSF technology are long gone, having been the modus operandi of the PV industry as it moved from 10GW to 50GW per annum production levels.

Being comparable with mainstream production today is not an option anymore when designing new lines and factories for cell production. The question is more focused on: which n-type option should be chosen? Or: how can a 5GW facility move p-mono PERC production costs to levels no-one else can compete with?

This article discusses some of the reasons why the industry has changed radically in the past few years, in terms of cell production and technology, and outlines the topics and sessions to be covered at the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 conference in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019.

Cell technology China-investment drive

When we look at c-Si manufacturing today, we see polysilicon becoming a China-dominated activity, with the prospects for producers outside China very bleak now and getting worse. The only thing that is likely to prevent this could come from government support for local producers or an unexpected trade-war that favours non-Chinese produced poly. Otherwise, polysilicon supply to wafer makers (also in China) appears to be how the PV industry is set to play out over the next phase of its growth.

Similarly, wafer supply is also a China-operations today. There is simply no chance for a company outside China to compete with mono ingot pullers that have 20-30GW of capacity located in low-cost areas of China. If China was still multi-heavy (as it was when GCL-Poly led the way), then there would be a place for overseas mono production. Today however, this is not the case. Mono rules in China and before long, China will supply more than 95% of wafers to the PV industry.

Of course, the above has not come about by chance. This has been a country/state goal, and it has largely played out as hoped for. Indeed, relationships between leading multi-GW poly, ingot and wafer producers in China are not like any other country; collectively they have played together to create a situation where poly and wafer supply ends up fully in the hands of Chinese companies.

The reason for outlining the supply control of polysilicon and wafers is to build up a picture of what is driving cell production and technology today, and how this is impacting on the PV technology roadmap and the current fascination of all-things n-type.

Today, China is in the process of prioritising a few companies to be 10GW-plus pure-play cell producers (although for now each is still harbouring aspirations of global module supply). This is not too different to what happened before with polysilicon and wafers. 

Almost regardless of the technology chosen, a 5GW cell fab in China (with the company having alignment with domestic wafer suppliers and cell/module leaders in China) basically destroys most cell production business plans of western companies in the solar industry today, unless there is true technology differentiation (such as SunPower or LG Electronics) or there are tariffs that level the playing field out in certain countries. 
Overseas operations are then at the behest of China-money (Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia).

The other major China factor impacting cell production and technology today comes from the funding that has been going into n-type variants, in particular heterojunction. Add in here n-PERT and the desire to add other upgrades such as passivated contacts, half-cut, singulated, shingled, bifacial, and multi-grids.

Then ask the question: What is the real PV technology roadmap!

In the past few years at PV CellTech, the event has been highly successful in offering a 2-3 year window into what project developers and EPCs will be confronted with at the module supply level. Therefore, PV CellTech 2019 looks like it has plenty of options to explain and make sense of.

Since the 2018 event back in March, there has been no shortage of ideas for PV CellTech 2019. Here is what we have come up with in terms of the session topics.

Morning Session 1: The cell production landscape in 2019: which technologies are really in mass production today?

This session will set out exactly which cell technologies make up the 100GW-plus being manufactured in 2019. This will involve looking closely at wafer supply, in particular mono wafers for n-type and p-type cell production, in addition to cell capacities and utilizations across the different high-efficiency segments making up the industry today.

Information presented will clarify exactly how much cell production is coming from p-mono PERC, new n-type capacities across n-PERT and heterojunction lines in China. Part of this will include what is available today for mono cell producers (both n-type and p-type) and how mono wafer supply levels are currently playing a key role in mono cell production levels.

Morning Session 2: Keeping both multi and mono p-type cells competitive in the market

During 2018, the PV industry has been equally supplied by multi and mono cell technologies, with mono set to be the market-leader in 2019. This contrasts hugely with the 70-80% market-share levels coming from p-type multi just a few years ago.

Both p-type mono and multi producers have been driving one another to increase cell efficiencies, where operating lines with improved yields, narrower distributions and lower production costs.
This session will hear from some of the multi-GW cell makers that have been instrumental in setting the benchmarks for cost/efficiency across both p-type mono and multi technologies.

Afternoon Session 1: Passivated contacts: what is needed for this process flow to become a mainstream offering in the PV industry?

The widespread roll-out of passivation layers on the rear side of solar cells (from p-type PERC, n-PERT and advanced HJT/IBC) has been instrumental to enable higher-efficiency process flow arrangements. While one of these is clearly the ability to access bifaciality, it has also stimulated production equipment upgrades to both improve passivation layer deposition, but also for passivated contacts, removing the need for laser openings on the rear layer stacks.

Moving to passivated contacts has, until now, been the domain of a small number of advanced n-type cell producers, but is currently been implemented by more mainstream segments of the cell production sector. Starting with n-PERT enhancements (potentially making this technology more differentiated and competitive with best-in-class p-mono PERC producers), the use of passivated contacts may soon see adoption across p-type cell producers, but much is still to be learned if this is really to happen.

This session will explain what passivated contacts are, where concepts such as TOPCon or poly-Si fit in, and what progress has been made so far to bring the upgrade technology to mass production. The presentations will also look at which equipment companies are best positioned to supply drop-in process tools, and what remaining challenges need to be overcome before passivated contacts become a standard, easily-adopted process flow stage for existing and new cell lines.

Afternoon Session 2: Heterojunction cell expansions: is 2019 to be a breakthrough year for Chinese HJT in multi-GW mass-production?

Investments into new heterojunction cell capacities in China can be considered among the most ambitious and disruptive technology threats to mainstream p-type offerings to the PV industry today. Furthermore, the potential performance levels have the scope to threaten existing premium n-type producers, including the only company that has a long track-record making heterojunction cells, Panasonic/Sanyo.

With many of the investments spanning the period 2017-2018, and lines being installed/qualified during the second half of 2018, it seems that 2019 will be the year when first mass-production results will be seen.

This session will focus on the companies seeking to drive new HJT production levels to the 5-GW-level in the next 12-18 months, what average cell efficiencies are coming out of mass production lines, utilization rates and production costs. The goal will be to determine how close these new entrants are to Panasonic-performance and best-in-class China p-type cost, throughput and utilization rates.

This also raises the question of whether heterojunction will re-emerge as the new platform for market-entry (or re-entry) strategies for funding in Europe or other non-Asia regions, especially if the highly-vocal plans from Enel and Hevel stimulate confidence that sufficient differentiation to Chinese n-type or p-mono PERC capacities exists.

Day 2: 13 March 2019: Morning Session 1: The rise of p-mono PERC: enhanced performance from cell-cutting, bifaciality, multi-busbar/grid-interconnects, copper plating, etc.

There is currently a wide range of upgrade options being pursued by p-mono cell producers, looking at getting the most out of the p-mono cell structure. This includes half-cut cells and singulated strips, 5-to-6 busbars, multi-wire interconnections, and many more efficiency-enhancing process flow changes.

During 2019, and likely into 2020, this will keep p-mono PERC based cells as the mainstream offering to the PV industry. However, what is the intrinsic limitation of the p-type substrate, and how can p-type mono compete if n-type expansions are proven to offer higher output yields with lower manufacturing costs?

This session will review the upper limit of p-type mono, indirectly providing the target metrics that n-type cells must satisfy before they can start taking market-share from p-mono PERC cell producers.

Morning Session 2: n-PERT and variants: benchmarking with state-of-the-art p-mono PERC and HJT/IBC mass production leaders

Multi-GW of n-type PERT lines have been added in China during the past few years, with many companies initially adopting process flows transferred from ECN (starting with the Panda lines installed by Yingli Green almost a decade ago).

Chinese new-entrants over the past few years that wanted to differentiate themselves from multi-GW scale p-type market-leaders typically chose the n-PERT route, as opposed to the more challenging HJT/IBC alternatives. For many companies in China, the goal was to emulate the performance of LG Electronics, but at China cost levels. This story began with Yingli many years ago, had a brief flirtation across non-China proponents in Korea and the US, and then returned to China a few years ago, largely viewing the success in production of LG.

Today, n-PERT producers are being forced to react to p-mono PERC advances, while seeking to approach levels seen from the higher-performing HJT cell platforms. In practice, p-mono PERC advances made the n-PERT investments look poorly judged. However, the reality was that n-PERT efforts had underperformed and needed to be market-leading in performance, not simply using any process flow that involved starting with n-type material.

With some of the leading Chinese cell makers still keen to add high levels of n-PERT based capacity in 2019, can this technology – through adding passivated contacts, multi-wire interconnections and other advanced features – emerge as a viable alternative that bridges the gap between state-of-the-art p-mono PERC and HJT/IBC cell types?

One difference to the non-HJT n-type plans in China during 2019 is the entrance of the major p-type producers, perhaps forced to show n-type pilot-line or GW-plans to the outside world and not wishing to consider HJT until there is more standardization with equipment and costs are better known. 

However, while some of these Chinese companies have >5GW cell capacity, the truth is they are still somewhat novices to the high-spec, advanced cell arena with their p-mono PERC capacities coming after market-leaders such as Q-CELLS, REC Solar, SolarWorld and others paved the route for PERC into mainstream p-type production.

Morning Session 3: Advanced inspection, yield optimization and cost-controlling measures; maximizing the potential of high-efficiency cell production with the lowest production costs

A key challenge for many of the new high-efficiency cell concepts (from p-mono PERC to all n-type variants) is to ramp up production lines with optimized processing, so that the efficiency of cells produced can be predicted and controlled.

This is being enabled today through new inline inspection tools, modelling and feedback loops that can also troubleshoot process tool issues that could adversely impact performance levels. New factories in China are becoming more intelligent as a result of this.

This session will focus on how cell production lines can be optimized and what cost benefits are on offer through higher yields and uptime metrics. The role of inspection and yield optimization has moved to a new level in the industry today – especially in China. Government mandates to move away from legacy manual low-cost operations to fully-automated, true-fab-like manufacturing has created now a production climate that is ideal to move to line optimization through intelligent manufacturing. The use of advanced cell concepts only elevates the importance here.

Afternoon Session 1: PV technology roadmap I: the views of leading cell producers and materials/equipment suppliers

This session is the first of two parts (closing out the event) that focus specifically on the technology roadmap for the PV industry, looking at the next 12-18 months and then out 3-5 years.
Understanding the real PV technology roadmap has been a major challenge for the PV industry during its growth from 1GW annually to north of 100GW today. Even a few years ago, few predicted that p-mono cells would grow from 20% to 60% market-share, for example.

Existing roadmaps – and those shown by GW-level cell makers – are equally confused, with some simply thinking that moving from p-multi Al-BSF to hybrid HJT/IBC cell processing is something that will simply happen in the next 5-10 years as a matter of fact. 

These forecasts fail to account for commercial reality of course.

However, with so many new concepts being championed and strong investments still flowing into technology-differentiated new entrants (often at the multi-GW level of capacity), it is now very important to know in which direction the industry will move, and which c-Si technology platforms may end up being side-lined, in exactly the same way that the industry bypassed a-Si and CIGS options several years ago.

The brutal reality is that when the industry moves from 100 to 200GW it is very unlikely this will see p-multi, p-mono, n-PERT variants, HJT and IBC all being mainstream options. GW-scale then will be niche and being a long voice at the GW-scale in a 200GW end-market may have marketing kudos but is a loss-making game.

Hearing the arguments from leading cell producers and key equipment/materials suppliers is essential though, as part of the overall technology roadmap for the industry. Whether there is alignment here is a different issue and is therefore a key output expected to be discussed during invited panel discussions following the roadmaps presented.

Afternoon Session 2: PV technology roadmap II: forecasts from third-party trade bodies and PV-Tech

How technology evolves in the PV industry remains the most-asked question, and it is fitting that PV CellTech now prioritizes this during the closing sessions of the event as a regular feature.
Many factors drive the roadmap, not simply what may appear as obvious to many or what the current market-leaders hope will unfold going forward. In the past couple of years, mono wafer supply has been the most important issue for the PV cell technology roadmap, effectively moving p-mono from 20% to 60% share-levels.

PV CellTech will therefore close with an interactive Q&A / panel-discussion. Knowing what to expect during the next 2-3 years in cell mass production has been the number-one reason most people have attended PV CellTech in the past: March 2019 looks set to be no different!

How to get involved in PV CellTech 2019

The March 2018 event was sold-out, and we expect March 2019 to be exactly the same. We continue to limit the audience, in order to ensure networking can be done best. The strong interest in the event now from the global cell manufacturing community is again allowing us to be selective in the range of companies needed to make the overall event work.

To attend the event, make suggestions on participation, or give some general feedback to the topics to be covered, please visit the PV CellTech 2019 website here.

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PV CellTech 2019 to showcase new PV Technology Roadmap forum

The fourth PV CellTech conference will take place in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, with the excitement starting to build up once again.

PV CellTech has now firmly become the must-attend event on the PV calendar in order to understand the current mix of PV cell technologies used in existing multi-GW cell fabs, and to learn exactly how cell efficiencies and costs will progress over the next 12-18 months.

When we started PV CellTech back in March 2016, we envisaged the event filling the void that existed in the PV industry between the academic blue-sky research gatherings (such as PVSEC or the IEEE events) and the often-disappointing satellite events that are bolted on to the major trade events that occur during the year (Intersolar, SPI, SNEC, etc.).

However, PV CellTech has now become much more than this, and is now setting the benchmark as the effective PV technology roadmap report, with the ability to track cell processing trends at the GW-level, with most of the CTOs and heads-of-R&D from the top-20 cell makers of the industry giving the presentations on stage at PV CellTech.

This article outlines what to expect at the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 event on 12-13 March 2019, and discusses a new forum we have created during the two-day event, where the term ‘PV Roadmap’ will be analysed in greater detail than seen at any PV event in the past.

Also, as an added treat, I have used this feature to explain how to forecast n-type adoption rates in the PV industry over the next five years!

Why technology matters today in PV

The timing of PV CellTech (going into its fourth year on March 2019) could not have been better, with the PV industry undertaking the first meaningful technology upgrade seen in over 10 years; namely, the move from multi-to-mono, Al-BSF-to-PERC, and mono-to-bifacial cell operations.

What the industry is currently seeing across downstream channels (phasing out of multi, mono market-share gains, PERC-everywhere, and bifacial making inroads) was actually covered in detail at the first PV CellTech events during 2016 and 2017. In this respect, the event is largely offering a crystal ball into final-module performance levels and site-yields, some two years out.
This is exactly what a technology roadmap should do. Few – if anyone – is remotely interested in 10-20 year technology forecasts that serve to confuse, not assist. Indeed, as we start to finalize the agenda for the March 2019 event, we segment discussions into:

Current state-of-the-art GW-level cell processing; today
Incremental enhancements (such as half-cut/singulated cell designs, alternative means of passivation deposition and contacting, etc.) that can impact on cell performance over the next 12-18 months; near-term
The next major inflection point that we can expect to see gaining traction over the next 3-5 years; mid-term

By far, the most interesting and critical in terms of company competitiveness can be found in the final category above. Can we really predict with confidence the next major shift in mass-production of solar cells? Or how fast it will occur? Read on please…
 

Why long-term forecasts are not working

If we conveniently ignore the yesteryear PV technology roadmap projections (that would have had us tracking triple-junction a-Si based panels as the leading technology today!), and look purely at the c-Si side of the equation (>95% of the world today still, and no chance of this changing anytime soon), one thing should jump out, as follows:

When the PV industry makes a technology-change, everyone does this at once, or at least over a 12 month period. Examples here include diamond wires for wafering and Al-BSF to PERC for mono cells. To suggest that multi will be phased out over 10 years is not how the PV industry works. For ‘years’, read ‘months’, or have a very good justification why a second-rate technology should exist in an industry once a superior one gains dominant market-share status. (Think VHS-Betamax from a marketing standpoint.)

Therefore, it is best to leave the 10-20 year technology forecasts aside, and ask: what next after p-mono PERC bifacial cells? During 2019, p-mono PERC becomes the mainstream offering (with bifaciality an option that is a consequence of the move to PERC, not a justification).

Lots of ideas, but how many are impartial!

Often, the loudest voices on technology-change come from those that would benefit most: research institute’s seeking technology-transfer revenue streams, equipment makers with unique tool capability, or companies that are early movers into a non-standard niche technology space.

However, these often tend to be diversions from the fundamental driver for technology-change: market-competitiveness. In this respect, if we look at the major changes in technology over the past five years, these have come from LONGi wishing to dominate wafer supply (with low-cost mono pullers in hitherto-unimaginable fab capacities) and early cell movers into PERC (in particular JA Solar).

As such, any key technology upgrade or inflection point in cell manufacturing that may occur in 3-5 years must have a reference point today that has traction with the leading c-Si manufacturers. Indeed, while the past three years have been all about multi-to-mono swing factors, the next move (in the new mono-pulling PV world) will be cell-process driven.

In fact, while multi (cheap, low-barrier-to-entry) casting took PV into the low-cost manufacturing age, it will be mono that moves it from fab-standard to fab-advanced. While we need to be careful not to overuse numeric terminology to characterize any pseudo-paradigm shift, there would be a case for associating the move from multi-to-mono as taking us firmly into Solar Cell Processing 2.0.

Yes, PV was all mono before directional solidification catapulted solar into the mainstream (and away from being a semi-spin-out activity) but there have only really been two main technology phases of the ‘commercial’ GW-solar age: multi-stimulated and mono-finessed.

All mono-roads lead to n-type

Once we accept that PV is in a mono-mainstream era, then we can finally talk about n-type in a way that was impossible before.

Not possible because without plentiful supply of low-cost mono wafers (or indeed sufficient high-purity silicon feedstock), n-type is niche, with cell makers hamstrung by the lack of competitive wafer supply. The industry moving to p-mono PERC today changes everything here.

This takes us back to the multi-to-mono flip being wafer-driven (LONGi and the others), not cell-demanded. Today, arguably, mono has the lowest cost structure for wafer supply (factor in LONGi’s cost-model and underutilization costs eroding multi wafer margins). It is no longer a requirement for mono wafers suppliers to enforce the LCOE argument to ensure a 10-15% ASP delta. PV mainstream is the lowest-cost offering, as simple as that.

As a result of this, there is also an argument to reset the PV technology roadmap, and simply project out what a high-purity low-cost mono wafer supply environment will do for cell makers.

Apart from the inevitable short-term enabler for me-too p-type cell producers to have premium performing cells on the market, crucially it allows n-type plans to have far greater meaning and relevance.

The move from p-type mono to n-type is probably as inevitable as the p-type multi to mono transition that is in mid-flow now and set to conclude in the next couple of years.

Technology-leaders, first-China movers and final-market-winners

The subtitle above perhaps sums up where we are with n-type today: a technology that is still less than 10% of c-Si cell output, but could easily start on a trajectory from 2019 that would make it the mainstream offering in five years from now.

Today, we have three companies that serve to illustrate that the three n-type variants (PERT, HJT, IBC) can be manufactured at the GW-scale with (STC) efficiencies above the best-in-class p-type offerings.

Indeed, if we factor in temperature coefficients, then the case for n-type is utterly compelling. The only thing lacking from these three companies is low-cost multi-GW production as part of a corporate operating model that can live with the resulting modules sold having gross margins in the 10-15% range.

SunPower, Panasonic (Sanyo-technology-inherited) and LG Electronics remain the technology-leaders today, and the ones that others seek to emulate from a process technology standpoint.

Then we have the first-China movers; a group of companies that have accessed funds in China in the past few years and equipped factories with tools to make up production lines. This represents a mixed bag by all accounts, with a technology-hunger that cannot be questioned. Knowing how to make high-efficiency cells however is a totally different matter, and cannot be ‘bought’.

Moving into GW-scale n-type production is not something that is easily carbon-copied through aligning with equipment suppliers, in the way that most of China was able to get into p-type cell production (in particular multi) in the past.

The reason for this is very simple. The three n-type companies that have succeeded in understanding how to make n-type cells have owned the IP and instructed tool makers what to do: not the other way around. Therefore, the tool makers are not (yet) the conduits of processing know-how, although many do have exquisite single-step expertise in-house; as every tool maker knows, the whole line is an altogether different proposition.

It is highly unlikely any of the n-type cell producers in China today will emerge as market-leaders in 3-5 years from now. However, in terms of the overall move from p-type to n-type, they will command a role of sorts; perhaps if only to highlight that premium cell production is a skill learned, and not one for sale today on the supermarket shelves.

The n-type market-winners

Maybe not the eventual winners, but at least the winners in the first post-p-type technology migration; perhaps the most important sign can be seen by the fact that the threat of n-type by the China-early-movers has forced the SMSL cell makers in China (not to mention the new pure-play multi-GW makers) to be ready for GW scale deployment if needed.

Almost certainly within the next 12 months, we will hear about the first GW expansion plans from the c-Si market leaders. When this happens, everything changes for n-type.

However, perhaps it is best to pause for now!

The reason for the extended n-type discussion above is very simple: it is one of the key themes for PV CellTech 2019, and the stimulus behind the extended PV Technology Roadmap session that will occupy the entire afternoon on the closing day for the event.

Themes for PV CellTech 2019

For those that have attended PV CellTech over the past three years, the scope of the event will be the same: hear from the CTOs of the leading cell makers; understand the manufacturing landscape over the next 12-18 months; find out the new production tools gaining traction in cell lines; find out the progress of the new cell entrants; determine how much cell production will come from China and the rest of the world; discover the new cost envelope for cell production at the multi-GW scale and what steps are being used to drive cell production costs to 3c/W and below.

The new feature will be the PV Technology Roadmap session that will cover the whole of the afternoon on day 2. This is expected to be an annual must-attend part of PV CellTech going forward, and will seek to establish the next major changes that will form the basis of cell production as the industry moves from 100GW to 200GW annually.

Over the next month, we are putting the final touches to the agenda for PV CellTech 2019. To get involved, or to sign up to attend before the event is sold-out, please visit our event website here.

What will actually determine n-type market-share adoption?

One of the reasons why so many people get technology forecasting wrong is that they don’t grasp that it is the combination of several factors, and not simply what should happen based on Excel spreadsheet calculations that churn out efficiency and costs for fun.

In the PV industry, the two most critical factors are a) the size of the overall market for modules (read cell production volumes), and b) the ability of companies to raise funds to add capacity or perform technology upgrades.

Once the technology case is largely ‘made’, then the above two factors determine the ‘rate’ at which the adoption takes place. This has explained the multi-to-mono transition today, and will certainly drive the n-type adoption rates soon.

To understand this, let’s look at a couple of examples that should help explain.

On the first one (a.) – addressable market size – if you imagine that there is a maximum 60GW of mono wafer supply, and everyone wants mono as the preferred technology, then mono has 60% of a 100GW market. If the market is ‘soft’ (lower than the expected 100GW), then mono still supplies 60GW but by default has a larger market-share: and vice-versa in a 120GW market, the share of mono is less and multi fills the space happily.

On the second one (b.) – investment climate – this is somewhat easier. The willingness and ability to raise funds is essential to enable a technology change that would need new factories, upgrade tools, more R&D, etc. A depressed market with a government mandate to minimize capex is not good for driving through technology change.

The combination of the two then plays the key role in the rate of technology adoption.

I have attempted to show this in graphics below. First, Figure 1 shows the dual-baseline forecast for technology out to the end of 2022. This assumes nothing earth-shattering in terms of annual demand growth over the next five years (take your pick in the 15-20% CAGR band here), and modest capex that keeps existing market-leaders competitive while allowing new entrants to be added to the mix.

Now, we move into the real world a bit more!

In terms of a. (the TAM), downside is a soft-market growth projection, with the phrase ‘sellers-market’ used to illustrate an end-market where ‘anything-sells’, including all the multi that can be made to meet the shortfall not being supplied from mono.

2018 was ‘almost’ a sellers-market, at least if you made-and-sold in China, for example, explaining why so much multi was made/sold last year.

In terms of b. (investment climate), profitless-prosperity is used to describe a world of zombie-companies sitting on a mountain-of-debt, and barely able to raise funds for capex. (OK – this is extreme, but you should get the picture here. Call it austerity if you want.) Conversely, we have an investor-confident market where raising funds for capex is relatively straightforward.

Here is what I come up with now, when looking specifically at n-type adoption over the next five years.
 

Very simply, red boxes are n-type adoption-negative, and green ones positive in which the rate of adoption for n-type (relative to the dual-baseline shown in Fig.1 above) is higher than shown.

If you have a spare few minutes, now think about how the multi-to-mono flip has evolved. This year (when the 50% share is breached by mono), we have had a soft demand climate on the back of capex highs in the new technology (mono wafers, PERC). That is – the green-box bottom left – the best-case scenario for technology adoption rates.

I think I’ve just figured what I need to talk about at PV CellTech next March in Penang, as the opening talk in the PV Technology Roadmap forum! This gives me four months to refine the explanation, and hopefully factor in whatever will happen in the industry between now and March 2019.

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Multi-GW India manufacturing challenges to be the focus of new PV IndiaTech 2019 conference

During the past few years, we have had numerous requests at PV-Tech from a wide range of PV industry stakeholders (due mainly to the success of the PV CellTech and PV ModuleTech series of conferences) to launch an India-specific PV event in Delhi. The requests have come from Indian companies, overseas investors, government bodies, trade associations, and both upstream/downstream industry activists seeking to understand and drive future developments.

As a result of these requests, and given the key stage Indian PV manufacturing is going through today, we have decided to launch an annual event in Delhi, dedicated specifically to India PV manufacturing. PV IndiaTech 2019 will have its premiere on 24-25 April 2019.

This article discusses the need for such an event, and what the key objectives will be from the conference. More broadly, I outline here also just why any company with global PV aspirations (across the entire PV value-chain) either has, or needs to have, a carefully considered India-PV-strategy plan.

Once you have absorbed all the information, it would be great to get your thoughts on PV IndiaTech 2019, and how we should configure the event with the correct mix of global stakeholders needed to move the industry’s manufacturing forward over the next 10-20 years.

Unique focus on manufacturing that bypasses short-term opportunism

Every country that embarks on a solar or renewables plan does so with lofty ambitions of creating an indigenous manufacturing landscape that results in high-quality sustainable job creation. Conversely, no government wishes to bankroll a deployment gold-rush that ends up being cornered by Chinese imports. Chapters of thesis could be filled simply by solar activities in this regard over the past few years.

For the countries that have sought to impose domestic manufacturing restrictions, whether to bail out domestic companies such as in South Korea and Taiwan or show evidence of token manufacturing efforts by way of module assembly plants, there has been all too often an air of short-termism.

Linking a viable domestic manufacturing sector with a risk-free long-term pipeline needs a government commitment that extends beyond 10 years, and in this respect, we can start to see just why PV manufacturing ambitions within India today are different from anywhere else globally.

But there is much more. India has an embedded goal of being seen on the global stage as a high-quality technology leader, and not simply another Asian country (post Japan, Korea, Taiwan) that has labour costs or a sophisticated OEM-culture as its primary drivers (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam). This largely captures the Make-in-India mantra, but for solar there is also the deployment (energy demand) driver that moves things to another level.

Fundamentally, India is the only country today that has a multi-decade forward-looking plan – championed by the current Prime Minister – that covers both deployment and upstream full value-chain manufacturing. No other country comes remotely close to this, with the exception of China (that is barely open for business when it comes to inward investment).

What India wants is a massive challenge

India wants to have a solar manufacturing sector that has the technology-brand of Japan or South Korea, the processing capability of Taiwan, the cost structure of China and the inward-investment lure of Malaysia. And to top it off, the final product performance and quality will allow leading producers to access both domestic needs and export opportunities.

As aspirational as it may sound, if you don’t have those ambitions from the start, you are almost certain to fail. The issue with India though is that we are a long way away from this, when we look at the country’s manufacturing sector today and the ongoing tumultuous relationship it has with its downstream suppliers.

During the past couple of decades, there have been many plans tabled to unleash a multi-GW eco-system value-chain of PV manufacturing. Almost all of these were lauded by eager publicity-seeking activists, but many began and finished at the ceremonial MOU phase, never to be heard of again. Those were the days of polysilicon plants being built or thin-film factories piggybacking on the country’s displays-oriented ambitions.

What finally did emerge in the early days of India solar (that remains until today) can be seen, for example, at Greater Noida (Indosolar) and Hyderabad (then-named Solar Semiconductor), in what were the first purpose-built ‘modern’ cell fabs in the country. In fact, during an early trip to India almost 10 years ago, I remember vividly the pride that India has entered the fab-era.

The start-stop production characteristics of these early entrants, in addition to the never-ending existence of various state-owned loss-making solar business units, seems a long way off, given what has happened in the past few years that starts to paint a picture of what this India-solar paradise may look like if the different stakeholders can make it work.

Government driven upstream and downstream finance

The launch of the National Solar Mission within India changed everything. It put to an end to the notion that pure-play cell production could compete as an export industry. It created a multi-GW end-market that caught the attention of the world. It was inherited by a Prime Minister (Modi) that has no equal anywhere else in the world when it comes to an inherent love of solar and an understanding of how it can transform India as a global leader in a post-fossil-fuel world.

The long-term commitments by Modi for deployment of solar within India serve as the most risk-averse guilt-edged market driver that could be imaginable. Yes, there is downside that accompanies this rapid growth in India, and I will touch on this later in the article. But, either way, any other domestic solar segment globally would readily have this problem in exchange for a constant pipeline of opportunities.

During the past few years, the concurrent upstream drive has come from a succession of attempts to restart domestic cell and module production, through safeguarding, domestic-content carve-outs and the latest Solar Energy Corporation of India’s (SECI) tendering for 3GW of manufacturing linked with deployment guarantees.

Running alongside these policy-driven initiatives, there is of course Adani, and the Mundra-chapter in India-PV, where the multi-sector, multi-national, multi-billion-turnover conglomerate sought to self-fund a micro-solar eco-system at the GW-level.

As of now, none of these efforts has succeeded, and in almost every case (and of course with hindsight) one can easily point the finger at naïve-ambition or a general lack of awareness of technical and commercial factors that underpin the global solar manufacturing sector today.

However, what these efforts reveal is intention, or perhaps a crash-course in PV manufacturing learning that should serve to get it right going forward.

Getting it right

If there was a simple domestic recipe to scale up multi-GW solar manufacturing, spanning ingot/wafer and cell/module production with profitability, there would be PV fabs all around the world, and trade-related barriers would never be heard of. Similarly, if there was a means of curbing global China-export domination, the world would look radically different today.

As such, there is no slight on any of the proponent’s motives, nor should one take apart the flawed assumptions that ultimately led to non-success.

Regardless of the 25GW of solar deployed today within India, and the failure of the previous domestic manufacturing efforts, one should still see India at the start of a journey, perhaps even just finishing its formation lap.

The long-term goal remains intact: being a global PV manufacturing powerhouse, driving domestic demand and having an export-market for any surplus. And critically, there remains the promise of finance through direct government budgeting and inward-investment vehicles including overseas government agreements and energy/infrastructure investment vehicles.

In this respect, there is almost an inevitability that multi-GW PV factories will emerge within India over the next 5 years, but the fundamental question remains: can they get it right?

 

Finding a route where everyone benefits has to be the solution

Understanding what has to happen in the short-term is inextricably linked to what a successful outcome looks like; and working back to what steps need to happen to fulfil this.

The successful outcome sees many parties benefiting in different ways, but most seeing this through short-term profitability, healthy returns-on-investments or market-favourable asset-values. Other stakeholders – in particular the Indian government and overseas countries that have intrinsic connections – benefit directly and indirectly in terms of global leadership and secondary diplomatic positioning in a renewables-dominated climate.

However, it would appear today that the ingredients for success boil down to a few key issues that need to be resolved:

What stages in the value-chain (for c-Si manufacturing) are of value for Make-in-India? Is it necessary to install ingot pulling capacity or should the focus be firmly on cell production, with matched module assembly capacity?

Which technologies need to be selected today for manufacturing investments that – by the time the facilities are operational – are state-of-the-art in terms of cell efficiencies and panel performance?
How do GW-scale factories get completed in Chinese-based timelines of 3-6 months, and retain the flexibility in adopting any technology-adoption cycles that may impact the industry going forward?
What is needed to manufacture with profitability? Is the model based purely on buying wafers from China and hammering down in-house costs on a quarterly basis, or is there a supplier/customer model that sees both parties sharing profit margins?
What is the role of overseas companies, and how can they add value to the Indian sector, and not simply be a strategically-funded platform to expand global reach?
How can the downstream segment within India (developers/EPC/investors) benefit financially from the increased availability of Indian-made PV modules (using domestic produced cells and possibly even wafers)?
What policy-driven, government-backed vehicle can make the above questions work in parallel?

These questions are possibly the most pertinent when considering how India moves forward with PV manufacturing, and to get to the bottom of these it is clear that a broad range of stakeholders need to be part of the overall decision-making process: something that has probably not occurred until now.

PV IndiaTech to provide global platform to facilitate India-PV planning

In order to address the questions listed above, it is clear that a forum needs to be created that hears the voices of the different parties that will be needed to fashion a plan that works to everyone’s benefit.

This is the fundamental goal of the PV IndiaTech conference, the first event due to be held in Delhi on 24-25 April 2019.

While there are numerous PV events within India these days – as would be expected from a 10GW-level annual end-market – the role of PV-Tech, as a leading global PV platform and the host of the PV CellTech and PV ModuleTech events, should not be underestimated. India needs global expertise and a connection of its upstream/downstream segments, while having the understanding of which roadmaps are worth aligning with to be industry-competitive going forward; and also welcoming the expertise that exists from the correct overseas technical and financial investors.

We are currently in the process of finishing off the agenda for the forthcoming PV IndiaTech 2019 conference, including key partners, speakers and event contributors. If you would like to feed into this process, or be part of the event in Delhi on 24-25 April 2019, then please reach out to us by email at marketing@solarmedia.co.uk, or drop me a line directly (by clicking on my name at the top of this article) with your ideas and suggestions.

During the build up to PV IndiaTech 2019, PV-Tech will be taking a closer look at many of the issues raised within this article, as well as highlighting the event in Delhi including interviews with all the parties seeking to find a solution to unlocking the potential of Indian PV manufacturing over the next 10-20 years.

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Imec sees nPERT solar cell roadmap surpassing 24% conversion efficiencies

European research and innovation hub centre imec has detailed a path for its nPERT (n-type Passivated Emitter and Rear Totally diffused) solar cell technology to reach conversion efficiencies in excess of 24% for volume production applications.
 
During last week’s EU PVSEC conference that was held in Brussels, Belgium, imec announced that its latest generation of large-area monofacial screen-printed rear-emitter nPERT cells achieved a conversion efficiency of 23.03%, which had been certified by Fraunhofer ISE CalLab.

“Until now, nPERT solar technology has not yet found the traction it deserves in the industry,” noted Loic Tous, senior researcher at imec. “With these ever-improving results, which we achieved by applying knowledge gained from our bifacial nPERT project, we are now demonstrating the potential of nPERT technology. The advantages in stability and efficiency potential over p-type PERC cells, while using the same equipment with the addition of a Boron diffusion, make this a very promising technology for future manufacturing lines.”

According to imec, its nPERT technology is projected to reach 23.5% efficiency by the end of this year, with a clear technology roadmap to eventually surpass 24%.

N-type PERT technology could become a cost-effective contender to P-type PERC, which is being ramped extensively as the next-gen mainstream technology ahead of an expected shift to heterojunction technologies (HJT) in the next five years. 

However, nPERT technology could compete in the 24%-plus efficiency space that HJT technology is expected to become mainstream as it retains key printing and other equipment from the PERC migration. 

According to imec, nPERT technology has a number of inherent advantages over P-type PERC cell technology, notably the absence of light induced degradation (LID) and are less sensitive to metal impurities that limit cell efficiencies. 
 
Imec has fabricated the M2-sized cells (area: 244.3 cm²) on its pilot line with industry-compatible tools and recipes in a process that is an upgrade of the pPERC fabrication process. This includes using a similar layout of an n+ region (Front Surface Field) on the illuminated side and a p+ region (as rear emitter) on the opposite side and adding a cost-effective boron diffusion.

Key to nPERT technology adoption will also be its cost effectiveness against HJT technologies capable of 24%-plus conversion efficiencies. 

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Daqo to exit wafer production as impact from China solar caps and mono-wafer transition

China-based polysilicon and multicrystalline wafer producer Daqo New Energy has said it would discontinue its solar wafer manufacturing operations in September, 2018.

PV Tech previously reported that Daqo’s wafer sales volume had been 70% down year-on-year as the caps on utility-scale and Distributed Generation (DG) solar projects in China at the end of May start impacting quarterly business results. 

Also recently highlighted by PV Tech’s head of market research, Finlay Colville was the faster than expected transition away from multicrystalline wafer usage to monocrystalline, driven by recent Chinese Government changes to its support for solar. 

Daqo’s multicrystalline wafer sales volume had been slashed by as much as 50% for the second quarter of 2018, due to the impact on the China caps.

Daqo had revised its wafer sales volume guidance to approximately 9.5 million to 10.0 million pieces, down from previous guidance of 15.0 million to 20.0 million pieces. In releasing second quarter financial results, wafer sales volume was reported to be 9.8 million pieces, near the high-end of revised guidance.

However, Daqo guided third quarter 2018 multicrystalline wafers sales volume to only reach between 7 million pieces to 8 million pieces, a 70% decline, year-on-year. 

In a short period of time, Daqo has decided instead, to exit the multi c-Si wafer business that is expected to be in overcapacity and experience strong ASP declines going forward. 

Daqo said that it expected to incur approximately US$21.6 million in fixed-asset impairment and restructuring charges in the third quarter of 2018, including approximately US$1.6 million in employee severance payments and approximately US$20.0 million in impairment of long-lived assets.

Longgen Zhang, CEO of Daqo New Energy, commented, “We made a strategic decision to discontinue our solar wafer manufacturing operations to accommodate the increasingly challenging market conditions for multi-crystalline wafers. We expect to complete the shutdown of the solar wafer business in the third quarter of 2018. This move will allow us to focus all of our resources and expertise on our core polysilicon manufacturing business and Phase 3B expansion project which will begin pilot production in the fourth quarter of 2018.”  
  
However, the high-purity polysilicon market is also expected to be impacted by the caps on solar growth in China and the reduction in the required metric tonnes of polysilicon required as the industry moves to monocrystalline wafers.

In his most recent blog on PV Tech, Colville noted that during recent updates to the “PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly” report, the polysilicon model, looking out to 2022, polysilicon consumption is set for a rapid decline to end below 3g/W, from around 4g/W today.

Major polysilicon capacity expansions in excess of 150,000MT have been underway from many major producers in China and Asia, including Daqo, Tongwei, GCL-Poly, Xinte Energy, Zhonghuan Semiconductor and OCI, amongst others. 

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China-531 to accelerate demise of multi; polysilicon consumption decline to 3g/W by 2022

Much has been written and voiced over the past couple of months in the PV industry, following the so-called China-531 policy announcement that finally provided a wake-up call to Chinese manufacturers that their domestic end-market was not going to be allowed to maintain its near-exponential growth characteristics.

The focus from many was simply to look at the changes in demand figures from China for 2H’18 and 2019, and the net effect on global demand. A few have speculated at the inevitable fall-out in terms of China-centric producers/suppliers at the cell/module level, not to mention to rush to hit the export-button in light of declining domestic order books.

These changes are somewhat obvious however. Equally so – but perhaps with bit more naïve – are the instant conclusions that module ASP price erosion will cause some kind of knee-jerk elasticity, enabling unviable end-markets today to burst into action. If only life was that simple!

Over the past couple of months, our in-house market research team at PV-Tech has re-adjusted our forecasts for the PV manufacturing segment, post China-531, timed to overlap with the release this week of our latest PV Manufacturing & Equipment Quarterly report release.

The impact of China-531 turns out to be far more reaching than the quick back-of-the-envelope issues raised above, and potentially has the catalyst to provide some of the most dramatic technology changes in the industry, feeding through to stronger-than-expected declines in polysilicon consumption that are particularly relevant today given the massive polysilicon plant expansions ongoing by the likes of Tongwei and GCL-Poly.

All data and graphics shown below are sourced directly from the new report release, with the feed coming from updated analysis on more than 100 of the leading PV manufacturers across the value-chain from poly-to-modules, accounting for 90-95% of the industry’s entire production quota today.

Module supply softness: the nail-in-the-coffin for multi

For the past couple of years, we have been explaining exactly what is dictating the mono/multi balance in the PV industry. It is worth a quick read up on the May 2017 article I wrote on PV-Tech: Mono and multi production 50:50 in 2018, but mono is the future.

In this piece, I laid out the factors that would ultimately dictate the rate of market-share gains from mono, with two main caveats, copy and pasted from the May 2017 article as follows:

a) If the industry contracts, or even remains static, it will only increase the rate of mono market-share gains over multi, as mono is tight in supply and has the scope to be competitive with multi now. In this scenario, multi is wiped out faster than expected.

b) Conversely, if the market over-performs, and ends up over 85GW [for 2017] (don’t discount for one second), then multi has a lifeline due to the supply constraints of mono. And potentially more time to get its act together for low cost wafering and cell efficiency improvements.

We picked up on the mono/multi activity just after China-531, in an article here. See the section in this article titled: “Mono adoption almost certain to be fast-tracked now with muted objections.”

However, now that we have done our analysis for the new report release, it seems the transition to mono is much faster than we had forecast even a few months ago. I will explain this more now.

Even without any dramatic change in the PV technology roadmaps of the leading cell makers, mono was set to dominate the industry in 2019, and multi would be phased out slowly over the following 3-5 years. But when we now look at the changes that have been undertaken by the leading cell makers (and module suppliers), the acceleration to mono (and accompanying elimination of multi) is much more pronounced.

This can be seen clearly in the new 5-year technology forecasting we have now done. It should be noted that our forecasts on technology are the only ones being done in the industry that look entirely bottom-up across the 100+ major companies supplying approximately 95% in 2019. Other companies doing forecasts only look top-down, and do not consider the impact on the overall market expanding or contracting.

The graphic below is fundamental to the entire forecasting in our report, and covers not just to the end of 2022, but is producer specific by quarter out to the end of 2020. The two graphics shown here refer to our forecast 3 months ago (left) and the one done in the past few weeks for the new report (right).

The above forecast may seem rather bold to many in the industry, especially those that are still clinging to p-multi PERC (half-cut of whatever) being competitive with mono going forward. Indeed, for EPCs and developers looking at their multi-GW of 72-cell p-multi module sites of the past few years, it might be hard to imagine things would change so quickly.

But this appears to be happening

So, how come the technology that was dominant just last year, in 2017, is being forecast to be removed from the industry in just 3 years? In fact, not just dominant in 2017, but p-type multi has been at 70-80% of the solar industry shipments during its entire growth phase from GW-per-annum to 100-GW last year.

The answer here come from p-mono being superior in every aspect to p-multi. Anything that can be done with a multi wafer can be done better with a mono wafer. Efficiency improvements have wider process windows with mono, and the resulting efficiency enhancements are greater on mono than multi.

The only thing that made multi the market standard was low-cost ingot casting (as opposed to high-purity mono ingot pulling). Multi casting became a 50-GW-plus commodity business in China (spearheaded by GCL-Poly). The barrier to entry was low: polysilicon purity requirements were low. China as a result grew to its current level of supplying 90% of all wafers to the PV industry.

Mono pullers entered the PV industry adapted from semiconductor. No firm worked out a recipe to scale production to the GW-level, far less work out a low-cost structure. Then LONGi entered the scene and everything changed. Regardless of what happens with LONGi as a company over the next decade, it will always be remembered as the catalyst that ushered in mono during the 100-200 GW annual demand phase of the industry.

Others in China followed LONGi’s low-cost multi-GW fab approach in the past few years, and many others are now diving into this space – something essential for mono to fully eradicate the use of multi in the industry. Expect this to be a massive deal from a technology standpoint in 2019, in the mainstream press.

But, mono wafer supply is just one part. The shift to mono always needed the cell side to drive it also. While the industry was happy to ship 72-cell multi panels to utility sites (the PV world outside China mostly until now), and pure-play makers such as those in Taiwan were mostly incapable of making any technology change, the factors supporting LONGi’s mono claim (‘mono is the future’) were faltering somewhat.

Enter PERC a couple of years ago, and the cell-side prompt came into being.

SMSL technology-flip possibly the final piece of the mono jigsaw needed

As such, during 2017 and the start of 2018, the Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) companies started one-by-one to change their mono/multi mix, and the cell technologies being used (both in-house made, and third-party supplied).

The first to embrace mono was JA Solar, followed by JinkoSolar, and now Trina Solar. LONGi is already fully-mono at the cell/module side, GCL-Poly is painstakingly moving off its parent legacy-multi advocacy, and Canadian Solar is almost certainly start being vocal about mono-PERC during the next few months. Hanwha Q-CELLS now has strong capacity levels of p-mono PERC, and is fully capable of flipping multi lines to mono, or taking excess multi capacity (likely in China) permanently offline if needed.

Now look at the graphic below, if you are still in doubt about the rapid mono transition.

Therefore, if the industry (as a whole) softens in term of annual demand, then the percentage of modules supplied by the SMSL only increases. This is further true since the contraction in demand is basically a China-affair in the near-term, and the Chinese cell/module makers that have no meaningful overseas business are forced to cease production. This portion of the industry has been multi-heavy in recent years, and with minimal-if-any R&D/technology focus.

Pure-play cell making returns – but now mono-based

The next piece of the mono-jigsaw can be seen in another recent development in the industry – this time purely at the cell manufacturing stage.

When PV was growing from a few GW’s per annum to tens of GW’s, there was a home for pure-play cell makers, either in Taiwan or China. Then, pure-play was all p-type multi. Some of the companies now recording multi-GW module shipments started life as a pure-play multi cell producer (Q-CELLS, JA Solar). Few survived, and the past 3-4 years in Taiwan has been rather painful to watch, while the companies there finally converged on a business models that were based on module supply, not cell shipments.

Pure-play cell making has at best been a zero-sum-game. Loss making has been prevalent, and cell makers are either being squeezed by wafer suppliers or module customers. In the past few years, pure-play cell operations has been firmly a loss-making exercise.

Enter China pure-play 2.0 and the development of Tongwei and Aiko Solar. Somewhat resurrected out of the ashes of legacy Chinese manufacturing that was serving the European market in days gone by, these companies have now become the new face of pure-play cell activity in the 100-GW-plus solar industry.

There are two key differences with the pure-play cell approach now of Tongwei and Aiko. First, the scale of economy, with 10-GW level cell capacities across each company emerging in 2019. However, perhaps the more relevant issue comes down to technology: p-mono PERC. In this respect, it is another massive marker supporting the above mono/multi switch in the industry.

In contrast also to pure-play cell activities in the past (in particular from Taiwan), the two Chinese companies are fully integrated into the Chinese c-Si manufacturing system, making them integral to the overall wafer/cell/module strategies of upstream and downstream partners. In this respect, plans for mono ingot capacity levels, and mono module assembly capacities inside/outside China, are made rather at arms-length with the supply channels of p-mono PERC cells coming from Tongwei and Aiko.

This changes the pure-play model from before, and it allows companies such as Canadian Solar or other SMSL players to control in-house and third-party mono cell supply, without having to rely upon ramping up excessive cell capacity that may have underutilization patterns on seasonality or module supply cycles of the industry. And of course, it removes the capex hit for these module suppliers at a time when module ASPs are declining faster than cost reduction measures.

The mono cell capacity levels of Tongwei and Aiko also become important to mono ingot/wafer supply levels (not to mention new high purity polysilicon additions in China during 2018-2020 from the likes of GCL-Poly and Tongwei’s subsidiary polysilicon activities).

The graphic below show our forecast of mono-PERC capacity from these two companies. Plotted here are the effective annual capacity levels, not the nameplate capacities that have ramp-up and phased line deliveries across the calendar years in question.

Polysilicon consumption to see further g/W reductions

The China-531 effect is not good news for polysilicon producers. Even before the China-531 announcement, polysilicon supply/demand had been set for imbalance and shakeout, owing to the massive plant expansions underway by GCL-Poly and Tongwei in particular.

Regardless of any change in technology (more mono, more n-type, more of anything higher-efficiency) any downward adjustment of PV demand owing from reduced installations in China from 2H’18 onwards, simply compounds what was shaping up as a bleak time for polysilicon makers.

We have discussed in the past couple of years just how much polysilicon g/W levels were being eroded, driven by increasing mono market share, higher efficiency cells coming from PERC, and the rapid transition from mono and then multi from diamond wire saws for wafering.

The last blog I wrote on this in February 2018 – Polysilicon consumption to decline below 4g/W in Q3 2018 – revealed the move towards blended polysilicon consumption falling below 4g/W during 2H’18.

During the recent updates to the PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report, we have updated our polysilicon model, looking out to 2022, factoring in the changes in mono market-share, one of the key parts of the decline to 4g/W and below during 2018.

We are now in a position to forecast polysilicon consumption continuing its rapid decline. During 2022, the figure will decline below 3g/W by year-end, with an average during the year close to 3.0g/W.

Furthermore, these declines are only conservative and cautious in nature, and there are more upsides and downsides the rate of decline, if we assume a larger-than-expected wafer thickness forecast, or more n-type, or more adoption of multi-wires to replace busbars.

The graphic below shows two slide to illustrate our forecast for polysilicon.

The graphic to the left above shows the rapid decline in polysilicon consumption, revealing 50% silicon consumption in 2022, compared to ten years earlier. However, the graphic on the right is by far the more interesting. This shows the annual decline contributions to the g/W decline.

The main contributions so far have come from cell efficiency increases and kerf loss reductions (including diamond wire saw adoption across mono and multi). From 2020 to 2022, the main contribution is coming from mono displacing multi.

If we focus on 2018 onwards, the simple calculation is to say that there will be a 25% reduction from 4g/W to 3g/W in 2022. For example, a supply level of 100 GW (thin-film and c-Si panels) needs approximately 420k MT of polysilicon, growing to 480k MT in 2022 (assuming c-Si panel supply of 160 GW).

The swing factor of course is forecasting PV demand in 2022, not to mention 2H’18! However, running with these numbers as a starting point, this serves to show the diminishing need for increased polysilicon relative to market growth.

Right now, we have a situation with polysilicon utilization vastly reduced compared to 1H’18 operations (especially in China), yet we have about 200k MT of real expansions ongoing where the companies are looking to ramp to operations between now and 2020/2021.

Is there logic here, or am I missing something?

The current thinking in China appears to be no different to before. Add capacity, and others will be forced out of business, shuttering sites permanently. This is accompanied by the expectation that lower purity polysilicon plants will not be able to upgrade to mono wafer requirements (as has been shown during the past few years where China needed OCI and Wacker for high purity material).

It is by all accounts a risky proposition to assume the demise of others, but there will be many changes to polysilicon plant build-outs in the next few years, and expansion phases can quickly be brushed under the carpet if need be.

Access the full data set from PV-Tech Research

The speed of change in technology today is considerable, and working out how this impacts producers across the entire poly/ingot/wafer/cell/module phases can be extremely challenging. Looking at the top-down forecasts offer a reference point, but the analysis has to be bottom up and biased to the companies with leading and growing market-share contributions as the real drivers.

To access the latest release of the PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report (from which all the data/graphics above are taken), including the bottom up forecasts across the leading 100+ producers in the PV industry today and going forward, please follow the contact links here.

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LONGi sets new quarterly shipments, sales and R&D spending records

LONGi Green Energy Technology, the world’s largest dedicated manufacturer of monocrystalline wafers and its subsidiary, LONGi Solar, a member of the ‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) has reported first half year results that included record quarterly shipments, operating income and R&D spending. 

LONGi Group reported first half 2018 operating income of approximately RMB 10.02 billion (US$1.49 billion approx.), compared to US$995.2 million approx.), in the prior year period, an increase of 59.36%.

On a quarterly basis, LONGi reported second quarter operating income of US$956.1 million, compared to approximately US$569.1 million in second quarter of 2017, a 68% increase year-on-year. 

The second quarter income exceeded LONGi’s previous quarterly record set in the fourth quarter of 2017, when the company reported an operating income of approximately US$874.8 million.

Although the company mirrored many competitors in reporting relatively soft first quarter results, sue to seasonality in key markets, including China, LONGi’s significant increase in shipments of mono wafers and mono PV modules were behind the operating income growth. 

The company reported first half year 2018 mono c-Si wafer production of 1.544 billion pieces, with 758 million pieces old externally and 786 million pieces were used in-house, compared to the first half of 2017 when external sales volume was 449 million pieces, and in-house consumption was 419 million pieces

In the first half of 2018, PV module shipments reached 3,232MW, including sales of 2,637MW and 375MW of modules use for its downstream PV project business, which included a number of poverty alleviation projects in China. 

However, the major change in module shipments came from international sales, which accounted for 687MW in the first half of 2018, 18 times higher than the prior year period.

Less spectacular than the operating income growth was the net profit in the first half of 2018, which reached RMB 1.307 billion (US$190.98 million approx.), a year-on-year increase of 5.73%. The company reported a gross profit margin of 22.62%. However, LONGi remains one of the most profitable PV manufacturers. 

The squeeze on profit and margins were mainly attributable to average selling price (ASP) declines, initiated by trade tariffs and the late impact of the Chinese Governments ‘531 New Deal’.

PV Tech had previously reported that LONGi surpassed long-term R&D spending leaders First Solar and Sunpower for the first time in 2017, having allocated over US$175 million to a range of R&D activities at the ingot/wafer level through to cell and modules, which set a new R&D spending record. 

In the first half of 2018, LONGi reported R&D spending in the reporting period to have reached approximately US$105 million, a year-on-year increase of 61.80% and accounting for 7.18% of operating income in the reporting period, a new industry record. 

To put this in perspective, First Solar’s 2017 annual R&D spending totalled US$88.6 million and Sunpower spent US$80.7 million. 

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Tongwei to start heterojunction pilot production with migration to Industry 4.0 manufacturing

China-based integrated polysilicon and merchant cell manufacturer Tongwei Group expects to begin pilot production of heterojunction (HJ) solar cells by the end of 2018, while the success of its 200MW Industry 4.0 fully-automated solar cell production line will lead to a longer-term migration of all cell production to intelligent manufacturing. 

Tongwei said that ongoing R&D activities as part of an advanced collaboration effort on next-generation HJ soar cells would lead to pilot volume production evaluations by the end of 2018. 

The company said that many PV manufacturers considered HJ cell technology to be the most promising next-generation high-efficiency cell.

HJ cell production requires higher cleanroom contamination requirements and automated handling and processing, in-line with Industry 4.0 objectives. Contamination of a HJ cell before the deposition of the a-Si layer, degrades the conversion efficiency of the cell.
 
The company has been ramping R&D spending for several years and spent almost US$55million on solar (polysilicon, cell and module) related R&D in 2017. Group R&D spending in 2017 was over US$80 million.

Tongwei also noted that during the first half of 2018, independent tests by Chengdu National Photovoltaic Product Quality Supervision and Inspection Center on PV modules (72-cell) using its passivated emitter rear cells had maximum power of 421.9Wp and a conversion efficiency of 20.7%. 

N-type mono HJ cells were tested in modules (glass/glass) reaching maximum power of 442Wp, with conversion efficiencies reaching 21.7%. Potentially new records.

Industry 4.0 manufacturing update

Tongwei has been at the forefront of fully-automated manufacturing of solar cells with its 200MW Industry 4.0 intelligent production line, which became operational in September, 2017 at its new 2GW Chengdu cell plant. 

Tongwei said that with current data analysis, the line had operated in a stable condition, while improving cell product quality and overall productivity, compared to non-fully automated lines.

The company indicated that overall in-house cell production in the first half of 2018 was as much as 60% better that the Chinese industry benchmark average when conversion efficiency, yield, and CTM (Cell to Module) criteria were used, leading to the company claiming it was at the leading level within the industry.

The operating stability of the line, coupled to the ability to reduce production costs that were said to be in the range of 0.2-0.3 yuan/W (US$ 0.029/W) were significantly below benchmarked Chinese cell producers cost of above 0.45 yuan/W, according to data released in January, 2018 from the China Photovoltaic Association.

As a result, Tongwei said it would extend the Industry 4.0 model to existing and new capacity, as it also steps to further consolidate its competitive advantage. The company did not say what the time lines for the migration would be.

Tongwei has become a leading cell supplier to key China-based ‘Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) members such as JinkoSolar Trina Solar, Canadian Solar and LONGi Solar. 

Manufacturing capacity update

Tongwei also noted that its planned expansion of P-type monocrystalline PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) production would start ramping by the end of 2018 as the company operated at 100% utilisation rates in the first half of 2018. 

Tongwei’s total solar cell production capacity was 5.4GW in the first half of the year, which included 2.4GW of P-type multicrystalline cell capacity at its Hefei plant and 3GW of P-type monocrystalline PERC cell capacity at its facility in Chengdu. Production continued to be fully utilized in the first half of the year.
 
The 3.2GW of new high-efficiency mono cell capacity at a new facility in Hefei is nearing completion and is expected to start production by end of 2018. The same is expected of a 3.2GW expansion at its new facilities in Chengdu. 

A total of 5.5GW of new mono solar cell capacity is expected to start ramping before the end of the year, bring nameplate cell capacity to around 10.9GW, consolidating Tongwei’s rapid accession to becoming the largest solar cell producer in the world. 

Tongwei’s polysilicon production capacity remained static at 20,000MT in the first half of the year but two 25,000MT plants with a combined capacity of 50,000MT per annum are also expected to be completed and put into production within 2018. 

By the end of 2018, Tongwei will become one of the largest polysilicon producers in the world. 

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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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