Author: PV-Tech

LONGi investing US$875 million in 2020 production capacity expansion plans

Leading monocrystalline wafer producer and ‘Solar Module Super League’ (SMSL) member LONGi Green Energy Technology is planning to invest around US$875.7 million in expanding its Czochralski-based monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si) ingot and wafer capacity by 15GW, while expanding mono-Si solar cell capacity by an initial 3GW in 2020. 

LONGi said it had signed a strategic agreement with the Yinchuan Economic and Technological Development Zone for the new 15GW ingot and wafer production facility, which is expected to cost around US$643 million. The facility is expected to gradually start ramping production in the second half of 2020. 

The company had recently announced plans to invest approximately US$773 million in expanding mono-Si ingot capacity at two production sites in China, which included 6GW in Baoshan and 6GW in Lijiang. LONGi also announced at the same time a 10GW expansion of mono-Si wafer production as part of a Phase 2 expansion at facilities in Chuxiong.
These previously announced expansions would take mono-Si ingot cumulative nameplate capacity to 38GW in 2019. LONGi had previously announced plans to take ingot capacity to 45GW by the end of 2020. 

The new 15GW plans would take mono-Si ingot and wafer nameplate capacity to 53GW after 2020. 

LONGi also announced that its subsidiary, SMSL member LONGi Solar would establish a mono-Si solar cell plant in Yinchuan. Initial capacity would be 3GW at a cost of around US$233 million. The facility would have a nameplate capacity of 5GW. The initial production ramp would be in the first half of 2020.

The company had recently announced a new 1GW mono-Si cell plant would be built in Malaysia at the Shama Jaya Free Industrial Park, Kuching City, Sarawak, Malaysia at a cost of approximately (US$125.5 million). 

Combined with the latest expansions planned in China, LONGi Solar’s mono-Si cell nameplate capacity would reach 10GW by the end of 2020. 

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REC Group launching 380Wp 60-cell module with 600MW capacity and US$150 million investment

Fully integrated PV module manufacturer REC Group is launching a next-generation high-performance module at Intersolar Europe next month, which will have a power rating of 380Wp in a 60-cell format.
REC Group said that the new high-performance module was based in a “new revolutionary cell technology and proprietary panel design,” which will be ramped to 600MW of production capacity with a US$150 million investment at its manufacturing facilities in Singapore. 

REC Group CEO Steve O’Neil said, “The new panel will fundamentally change the competitive balance between REC and other Tier 1 players. It will open up a big power gap beyond what is commercially available today.”

Currently, REC’s flagship high-performance module is the N-Peak series, reaching 330Wp, the 60-cell module was the world’s first to combine mono n-type half-cut cells with a twin-panel design.

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Amtech exiting solar sector on expected divestiture of subsidiaries

PV equipment and technology specialist, Amtech Systems is to sell its solar manufacturing equipment subsidiaries that included Tempress and SoLayTec to focus its semiconductor sector business.

The company had previously undertaken a review of its solar business late in 2018, which included the departure of Amtech’s CEO, Fokko Pentinga, after 24 years of service. The company has noted the impact from the China 531 New Deal at the end of May, 2018, which led to a slowdown in a number of Chinese PV manufacturers continuing with previously announced capacity expansions plans. Later, Amtech noted that a major order from a Chinese customer had been cancelled.

Profitability had been an issue in its solar segment in recent years, while its order backlog declined. The company had previously reported a net loss of US$7.1 million within its solar business in FY2018, after a net profit of US$6.1 million in FY2017.

In a first quarter 2019 presentation, Amtech noted that it had little visibility in the future business of its solar segment as well as strong competition from Chinese equipment manufacturers with “good enough” equipment, while “superior technology not enough to win in [the] current CAPEX constrained market environment.”

In a financial statement, Amtech noted that it had adopted a plan to sell its solar operations on or before March 31, 2020. However, it was unable to assess at this time the costs associated with the planned sale. 

Amtech’s J.S. Whang, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, commented on the planned sale, “In November 2018 we announced that we had initiated a comprehensive review of our solar businesses.  In a February update we noted thus far our review strongly indicates that our combined Semi and SiC/LED polishing business provide better markets for enhancing the value of Amtech Group. We have recently completed our assessment and conclude, along with Tempress and SoLayTec management, that significant investment is required to effectively compete in the changing solar industry. We therefore conclude Tempress and SoLayTec would be better positioned to capitalize on opportunities in the solar industry under new ownership.”

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Imec and Jolywood R&D collaboration on bifacial n-PERT solar cells hits a record 23.2% efficiency

An ongoing R&D collaboration between Imec and Jolywood (Taizhou) Solar Technology Co, the PV module manufacturing arm of major PV backsheet manufacturer Jolywood (Suzhou) Sunwatt Co, have reported an n-PERT (Passivated Emitter and Rear Totally diffused) bifacial solar cell with a conversion efficiency of 23.2%, a new record. 

Imec announced the results at SiliconPV 2019, which were measured by ISFH Caltec, with a clear path to achieve conversion efficiencies above 24%.

Jia Chen, R&D director at Jolywood: “Jolywood targets to bring the best solar solution to the market. Devoted to R&D and manufacturing of the world’s best n-type cells and modules, we believe n-type technology can contribute to the industry with high performance, high reliability and low LCOE. We have chosen imec to help us reach that target because of their unique expertise and research infrastructure. We are also developing bifacial n-PERT cells with passivating contact technology, and have already achieved efficiencies above 23%. Combining all the technology know-how, we are confident that our bifacial n-type solar cells will achieve an efficiency above 24% very soon.”

The latest record was set from a batch of 12 new M2-sized cells (244.3 cm²) measured at ISFH CalTec that showed an average conversion efficiency of 23.0%, with the best cell topping 23.2%. Imec said measurements revealed a bifaciality factor above 80%. 

Measurements taken under standard front illumination conditions in conjunction with an additional 0.15 sun rear illumination, led to effective a conversion efficiency of almost 26%, according to imec. 
ISFH Caltec also measured an average reverse current of -0.4A (at -12V) indicating improvements to the breakdown characteristics of the cells.

Loic Tous, project leader at imec/EnergyVille added, “Compared to the previous results imec reported, we have further optimized the fully screenprinted bifacial n-PERT cell process and adopted a design with twelve busbars. The current cells also have a screenprinted front grid and rear soldering pads that use less silver. The open circuit voltage (Voc) is now above 690mV with fill factors up to 83%. These remarkable results are obtained using the same industry-compatible equipment to produce bifacial p-PERC cells, with the addition of a boron diffusion.”

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Meyer Burger receives US$15 million PERC tool order representing new wave of cell expansion plans

Leading PV equipment supplier Meyer Burger has received a CHF 15 million repeat order for its ‘MAiA’ 6.1 PECVD tool for PERC passivation processes from a leading Asian customer, according to the company.

Meyer Burger said that MAiA 6.1 cell coating platform order was a signal of a new wave of high-efficiency PERC cell capacity expansions.

Dr Hans Brändle, CEO of Meyer Burger, stated: “Today’s announcement of a repeat order from a leading PV module manufacturer for our next generation MAiA® 6.1 signals the beginning of ambitious new PERC expansion plans by the solar industry.”

MAiA 6.1 cell coating platform is said to have a throughput of over 6,000 wafers per hour for mass production scalable PERC technology.

Meyer Burger’s CTO, Dr Gunter Erfurt added, “Meyer Burger’s proprietary passivation technology for PERC solar cells is based on our own IP which is patented in the EU as well as in China and Korea. The patents describe and claim the deposition method, the tool configuration, the process sequence as well as the resulting passivation structure on the solar cell. Thus, PERC solar cells processed on our leading MAiA platform apply a significantly different passivation structure compared to the structure e.g. applied using atomic layer deposition (ALD) and are not in the scope of the recently filed patent infringement claim by a leading PV company against other solar manufacturers.”

Dr Erfurt was referencing the recent patent infringement cases issued by Hanwha Q CELLS against JinkoSolar, LONGi Solar and REC Group in respect to its [215] patent that was issued in the US in February, 2018. The patent  includes a specific passivation layer structure that is comprised of a first layer including aluminum oxide deposited by ALD that is below 50nm in thickness with a second and thicker dielectric layer imbedded with hydrogen that forms a specific layer structure that is typical in PERC solar cells as well as cell derivatives. 

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Jinergy touts heterojunction module breaking 450W at PV CellTech conference

In a presentation at the PV CellTech conference being held in Penang, Malaysia, this week, Dr. Liyou Yang, general manager of Jinneng Clean Energy Technology Ltd (Jinergy), highlighted its heterojunction (HJT) cell-based JNHM72 (72-cell) champion module had reached 452.5W power output.

According to Dr. Yang, currently, Jinergy’s HJT cell average mass production efficiency has reached 23.79%, and the efficiency of new experimental cells has reached 24.73%.

Dr. Yang said in a statement: “Confronting energy restructuring and FiT reduction, bifacial ultra-high HJT technology is the ideal solution to further reduce LCOE, the widely used standard to evaluate investment of PV power stations. Being newly added to the BNEF Tier 1 solar module manufacturer list, Jinergy will continue to invest in R&D for cutting-edge technologies and contribute to the global renewable energy market with the most advanced and reliable products.”
Jinergy is one of the first PV manufacturers to commercialize HJT modules in China. Jinergy’s HJT module received the first new IEC certificate in the world and was listed in DEWA and JPAC, according to the company.

Recently, SunPower Corporation launched its first module using its NGT (Next Generation Technology) IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) ‘Maxeon Gen 5’ cells.

The A-Series module is expected to come in power ranges of 400Wp and 415Wp and billed as “world’s first 400-watt residential solar panels.”

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Meyer Burger sets heterojunction solar cell efficiency roadmap to 25% at PV CellTech conference

Leading PV equipment supplier Meyer Burger has outlined a technology roadmap for heterojunction (HJT) solar cells with efficiencies towards 25% at the PV CellTech conference being held in Penenag, Malaysia this week.

According to Meyer Burger’s CTO, Dr Gunter Erfurt the company has already achieved HJT cells with recent record efficiencies of over 24.2% on its standardized HJT equipment. 

However, Dr. Erfurt also highlighted a technology roadmap for HJT cells that would progress cell efficiencies towards 25% that was already in place at Meyer Burger. 

Dr. Erfurt also noted that its SWCT cell connection technology, also being used in HJT production had surpassed 1GW of sales. 

With current PERC solar cells able to achieve efficiency levels of between 21% and 22%, technology limitations are also present, which affect the potential for further increases in PERC cell efficiency, according to Meyer Burger.
However, Dr. Erfurt noted that passivated contact technology could offer an evolutionary upgrade to existing PERC mass production capacities, taking them to efficiency levels around 23%.

For the past two years, Meyer Burger has been developing a platform for the industrialized manufacture of solar cells with passivated contact technology for both n- and p-type wafers.
In trials with customers, Meyer Burger said that the ‘CAiA’ platform has already produced cells with efficiencies slightly above 23% and the first lab machine has already been sold to a strategic customer and technology partner, with initial installations planned by midyear. 

The CAiA tool platform works in tandem with its ‘MAiA’ and ‘FABiA’ cell coating portfolio, with either the MAiA or FABiA as the optimal solution for the manufacture of passivated contact cells. Meyer Burger’s SWCT module technology was also a cost-effective solution for modules with passivated contact cells.

Meyer Burger also commented on the recent Hanwha Q Cells patent infringement case against JinkoSolar, REC and LONGi Solar, noting that its MAiA and FABiA cell coating platforms used proprietary Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD) passivation technology, which is the leading alternative technology to ALD and thus not in the scope of the patent infringement claim by Hanwha Q Cells.

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PVCellTech Talk: Q&A with Weiming Zhang, CTO at Heraeus Photovoltaics

Ahead of the PV CellTech 2019 meeting in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, conference chair and head of research at PV-Tech, Finlay Colville, caught up with one of the keynote invited speakers at the event this year: Dr. Weiming Zhang, from leading PV materials supplier Heraeus Photovoltaics.

Dr. Zhang is set to deliver one of the presentations within a new feature at PV CellTech this year, looking at detail in how we can expect the PV Technology Roadmap to evolve over the next 2-3 years. Leading up to this, we posed a few questions to Weiming to get his views on where PV technology is today, what the challenges are moving forward, and what to expect within his feature talk at PV CellTech during 12-13 March.

Finlay Colville: Thank-you Weiming for taking the time to catch up with us before PV CellTech this year. We are delighted that Heraeus is giving one of the keynote talks, during our PV Technology Roadmap session. Before we get more into the talk and some other thoughts about where the industry is going in the next 2-3 years: it would be good to know first what the main challenges are today in PV cell manufacturing?

Dr. Zhang: My pleasure, Finlay.  [Regarding to today’s main challenges in cell manufacturing, I think friends in cell producers have much more to say than me, however, Heraeus, as a key contributor in PV industry, does have strong commitment to work with key players to overcome challenges facing today and in the future.  I do believe the ultimate challenge or driver in PV cell manufacturing stays and will remain the same – how to increase eff. And performance while keep reducing the cost.   Thus on wafer level, we saw aggressive movement toward larger and thinner, this trend will continue but watch out yield.  Also shall PV industry again standardize its cell and module size?  On cell level, will evolution improvement continue or shall take revolution path now? For instance, which technology shall we bid after PERC? Is screen-printing reaching its limit? Etc.  I am glad we will have many fruitful discussions on these during the coming forum.]

There has been strong investment within China in particular for n-type cell lines, over the past 12 months? A couple of questions on this for you now: does this create challenges for a company like Heraeus in terms of prioritizing in-house R&D on paste optimization, given that many of the process flows for advanced cells are rather different? And, do you think that 2019 will still be a year of new n-type cell capacity line construction, with utilization rates mainly increasing during 2020?

[Yes, it is certainly a challenge as, unlike standard BSF and PERC, n-type cell technology has many variations in terms of process flow and cell architecture.  For metallization paste development, any change on interface topography and/or chemistry will require certain optimization- R&D effort.  Heraeus fully commits with the largest RD team in metallization field and well positioned with the broadest product portfolio to support our key customers on its advanced cell architecture development; at the meantime, we are working very closely with our strategic partners to ensure technology alignment.
In terms of n-type cell line construction, I agree the main utilization rate will increase from 2020.]

Every few years, the solar industry, in particular at the cell manufacturing stage, focuses more on cost-reduction than capacity expansions. How much more costs do you think can come out of the cell production stage, and where can we see silver consumption levels get to in the next couple of years?

[Once again, friends in cell producers are much qualified to comment on cost reduction potential on cell production stage.  I will leave this challenge to them (but not alone!).  We are very proud that we enabled our customers to reduce >65% silver consumption per cell by developing and delivering new generation metallization pastes year after year for past 10 years.  This effort will continue and further reduction of silver consumption is coming.

However, I think ITRPV roadmap for silver usage reduction was a bit over ambitious. We do see a wide range of paste laydown depending on customer design with some customers pushing very low silver consumption.  Multi Bus Bar and multi-wire module designs do of course enable further lower silver usage.  There are also some promising new print technologies to reduce silver usage, but these still need to be proven in a manufacturing environment (e.g. transfer printing, dispensing at R&D level).

Following an evolutionary path based on screen printing technology, we may expect silver paste laydowns in the level of 70 mg/cell in the next 2 years.]

Your talk next week at PV CellTech is part of the PV Technology Roadmap session. Heraeus actively shows the industry what it expects from a technology-standpoint. How does this differ from some of the other forecasts on technology we see today, such as the features we do on PV-Tech or the long-term forecasts given by bodies such as the ITRPV?

[Our Technology Roadmap is based on discussions with R&D and Production teams at many different customers and we align our development to their needs. We work with customers across all technologies so are able to get a diversity of voices informing our Roadmap. 

Forecasts based more on Production plans may be more conservative, while those based on surveys of research institutions may be more optimistic about step-change technologies and when they will be in mass production.]

What key messages would you like to emphasize while at PV CellTech next week, when you deliver your presentation?

[I am an optimistic believer that we will see many new evolution improvements and revolution breakthroughs in cell technology for years to come.  This is particular true for metallization paste technology.   Advanced metallization paste with ultrafine line ability and well “balanced” of contact and recombination alone can further boost cell eff. By ~+0.3%; coupling with some revolution technologies, ~+0.6% is not out of reach.  But all in all, fundamental studies and understanding is must, which does require constant and heavy R&D investment.]

And finally: apart from the focus on your talk at PV CellTech next week, are there any other key issues that you feel the industry CTO’s need to work better on, as a collective unit, in order to move cell manufacturing forward? Can the PV industry have a roadmap for example like SEMI, or are there still just too many cell producers with different technologies being produced today?

[There are high level roadmaps such as the one from ITRPV which set a big picture goal. The goal posts ambitious challenges to the industry in finding creative ways to stay cost competitive. Hence, it is important for the industry as a whole to take a long term perspective focusing on performance, overall value, and long term reliability of key products, processes and solutions.  Additionally, intimate collaboration (for example, standardizing certain QC testing), efficient R&D spending and speed of innovation will continue to be important.]

Thanks for all the inputs – look forward to seeing you soon!

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Tongwei moves to #1 in global cell production rankings in Q1’19

During the past few months, Tongwei has officially moved into the top-position as the leading solar cell manufacturer – by production volume – serving the PV industry.

The company will also be the first to produce more than 10 GW of solar cells in a single year, a feat likely to occur during 2019, ahead of strong growth that may see this doubling within just 3 years.

Tongwei Solar is now redefining the whole basis of solar cell production, and is doing this with alarming efficiency across its investment plans, supply arrangements, and cost-reduction plans.
However, having a profitable business model as a pure-play cell manufacturer has eluded every company in the solar industry that has tried to go down this path.

This article reviews the failed attempts by many companies that have tried to make pure-play cell production their PV business model, and then outlines why Tongwei Solar’s approach may turn be the exception to the rule.

The article and discussion comes just days before the fourth PV CellTech conference in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, where the CTO’s and heads of R&D from all the leading solar cell producers today (including of course Tongwei Solar) will be presenting their company’s plans for multi-GW cell activity during 2019 and beyond.

The PV CellTech 2019 event is very close to being sold-out again for a fourth year running, so anyone really wanting to understand global cell production in the next 2-3 years should register quickly at the event website through the link here ASAP.

Litany of failed pure-play cell maker ventures

The first major attempt to drive a business model based on GW-levels of cell capacity was from the former Q-CELLS operations in Germany, fuelled by the Euro-frenzy of the day that was founded on strong research institute driven projects across mainland Europe, and the rise of FiTs in Germany and Italy. Eventually margins were eroded at Q-CELLS, with polysilicon contract obligations driving the company into insolvency. The cell operations were acquired by Hanwha and exist today within the reinvigorated Hanwha Q CELLS module brand offering.

Elsewhere globally, some companies in China started life as cell specialists, most notably JA Solar. This company was quick to see the benefits in being vertically-integrated with module revenue streams a priority. Similar to Q-CELLS above, JA Solar’s cell origins are also prominent in the industry today; Hanwha Q CELLS and JA Solar have been the two major cell producers in the PV industry for the past few years.

While pure-play cell production was going out of vogue in Europe and mainland China, Taiwan stepped in to try and fill this void. In fact, Taiwan-solar was founded on the basis of being mainly a pure-play cell island, and for a few years, companies such as Gintech, Motech and Neo Solar Power were considered to have the highest-performing p-type cells on the market, being suppliers-of-choice for many Chinese and European module assembly fabs. However, trade restrictions (to Europe and the US) revealed the fragility of this business model, putting cell operations in Taiwan into the red and without any strong capital investments to move to any Plan-B.

India tried to kick-start pure-play cell operations, but could never compete at the time with Taiwan cell makers. At the time also, there was no strong local Indian solar market, and consequently no place for any domestic carve-out business model (which is happening now and in a big way).

Lastly, Shinsung in Korea also tried to become a cell-dominant producer. Interestingly, Shinsung was an early advocate of mono, way before it reached the market-share levels seen today. Shinsung had to change directions often, and for a while the route of supplying cells to contract module producers in Southeast Asia did look promising; but again, the model was too dependent on downstream project-based companies that could turn off contract supply channels as fast as they had set them up in the first place.

Tongwei’s model is completely different

Having entered the cell space in a somewhat quiet way (through the acquisition of one of the failed zombie operations in China post the European FiT decline), Tongwei quickly became a cell-supplier of choice to many of the leading multi c-Si module producers in China, not to mention third-party cell supply to the SMSL that already had GW’s of cell capacity in-house.

This was followed by cell expansion phases that eventually saw the company move into unchartered territory.

From 1GW in 2014 to 3GW by the end of 2016, more than 6GW end 2017 and then a blistering 2X in cell capacity installed during 2018 to hit 12GW of cell capacity in China by year-end. And by default, all capacity is new, unlike much of the legacy cell lines running still elsewhere in China and across Southeast Asia.

Today Tongwei has more cell capacity than any other company in the PV industry. But even more significant: future expansion plans for the next 2-3 years are also well above anyone else, by a clear multi-GW margin.

The package is compelling for Tongwei: economy-of-scale benefits at the 20-30GW level; state-of-the-art equipment and operations in China with the lowest manufacturing costs in existence today; the ability to operate a successful business model with margins well below Western companies; and a list of ‘partnering’ polysilicon, wafer and module market-leaders that any cell company would die for.

As more legacy Chinese cell fabs get mothballed in the next few years, it is likely to only drive aspirations even higher with Tongwei. 

Ultimately, this may simply be the first signs of China eventually having its core group of 2-3 production-share leaders across polysilicon, wafer and cell manufacturing, with a cost model that requires any other manufacturer to differentiate in technology and product offering within a niche 10% segment of the industry through the value-chain.

With the current modus operandi of Tongwei being a wholly-Chinese-based manufacturing entity, it goes without saying that only show-stopping duties or barriers – placed on China as an origin of manufacture for solar cells – could derail the plans. However, this will remain unlikely if cell capacities outside China are insufficient to meet the majority of module demand levels.

R&D investments at Tongwei

Tongwei’s cell expansion plans and positioning as the first mega pure-play cell producer serving the PV industry also comes at a time when R&D investments within China are being prioritized much more than in the past. In fact, potentially this becomes a fall more important theme to understand, and could offer insights into what role China may play as the industry moves eventually from p-mono PERC as the mainstream standard of 2019.

Next week, Tongwei’s R&D Manager, Andy Chin, will be speaking at PV CellTech 2019, as one of my keynote invited guest speakers. The opening session at PV CellTech on 12 March in Penang could not be any more pertinent in fact to solar technology trends over the next few years, featuring JA Solar, Hanwha Q CELLS and Tongwei Solar – possibly the three most important technology players in the PV industry today.

PV CellTech 2019 takes place in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March. Visit the event website here to grab one of the last few seats on offer to attend.

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