Author: PV-Tech

REC Group to produce heterojunction modules with Meyer Burger’s ‘SmartWire’ technology

Integrated PV module manufacturer REC Group has said it invested US$150 million in developing and rolling out into volume production a new N-type monocrystalline-based heterojunction (HJ) cell that will use Meyer Burgers ‘SmartWire’ (SWCT) cell connection technology. 

REC said that the new high-performance module would be first showcased at this year’s Intersolar Europe, being held in Munich in mid-May, 2019.

Steve O’Neil, CEO of REC Group said, “Our new flagship product will deliver significantly better power density and will fundamentally change the competitive balance between REC and Tier 1 players, opening up a big power gap far beyond what is available today.

Two PV manufacturers, SunPower and LG Electronics lead the high-efficiency and module performance rankings, both using IBC (Interdigitated back contact) solar cell technologies. 

SunPower’s X Series modules average cell conversion efficiency bit 25% at its Fab 4 facility in the Philippines, the highest in the industry in 2017, while LG Electronics introduced last year its LG NeON R module with a power output up to 370W, with 21.4 percent efficiency in a 60-cell configuration.

Panasonic, the largest producer of HJ modules has a conversion efficiency of 19.6% and power output of 330W.

REC Group touted that HJ modules were manufactured without the higher temperatures of other methods, which simplifies the process and reduces manufacturing energy consumption. However, HJ cells are highly sensitive to contamination issues pre and post deposition of the intrinsic amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) thin-film passivation layers. 

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SunPower starts ramping 200MW of P-Series modules at Oregon facility

US-headquartered high-efficiency solar panel manufacturer SunPower Corp has started ramping production at its first volume manufacturing plant in Oregon, USA.

The former SolarWorld Americas facility has been converted to produce SunPower’s P Series (19% plus) conversion efficiency modules using its patented ‘shingle’ cell interconnect technology boosting performance of P-type monocrystalline PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology. 

The P Series is a relatively new addition to SunPower’s IBC (Interdigitated back contact) solar cell and module product portfolio and has been rated in the annual ‘Top Performer’ testing by DNV GL for the last two years, indicating the reliability and performance stability of the shingled cell technology.

“Today we celebrate the revival of American solar panel manufacturing as SunPower’s high-quality P19 product starts coming off the line in Oregon,” said Tom Werner, SunPower CEO and chairman of the board. “Now that we’re in full production, we look forward to meeting our strong U.S. commercial market demand with these high-performance American-assembled panels.”

The US has undergone a small renaissance in PV module assembly in the last two years, primarily driven by the US Section 201 case, imposing high tariffs on virtually all PV modules from manufacturing centres around the world at the beginning of 2018. 

According to PV Tech’s quarterly capacity expansion announcements report, a total of around 2GW of new module manufacturing plans were announced for the US in 2017, which increased to almost 4GW in 2018. 
‘Solar Module Super League’ (SMSL) members such as JinkoSolar and Hanwha Q Cells are expected to also start ramping module assembly plants in the US in early 2019, accounting for over 2GW of new capacity in the US. 

LG Electronics, which is the key high-efficiency rival to SunPower, is also establishing a 500MW module assembly plant in Alabama to produce its ‘NeON’ 2 series 60-cell N-type mono modules for the US market. 

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Speakers at PV CellTech 2019 to reveal key technology roadmap trends

The PV CellTech 2019 meeting takes place in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019. Going into its fourth year, PV CellTech has firmly become the key event for all CTOs and heads-of-R&D.

The line-up of speakers for March 2019 is by far the most impressive grouping yet to feature at a PV CellTech meeting, including all the c-Si companies making up the new Solar Module Super League (SMSL) for 2019, as explained in an article on PV-Tech just last week.

This article reveals the 30 confirmed speakers for PV CellTech 2019, with just a couple more to be added between now and the event on 12-13 March 2019 in Penang.

As a follow-up also to a recent blog on PV-Tech covering some of the topics for Day 1 of the event, the full list of sessions is revealed also in this blog (Day 1 and Day 2, on 12 and 13 March).

Past CellTech events have been sold-out, so please book soon to attend through the tabs on the event website here.

All silicon-based SMSL companies confirmed as keynote speakers

Last week, we revealed the nine companies now making up the new SMSL for 2019, with eight c-Si module suppliers and one thin-film (First Solar).

We can now reveal that all c-Si SMSL companies will be speaking at PV CellTech 2019, with opening talks on Day 1 from the two cell makers that have led cell production rankings in recent years: JA Solar and Hanwha Q CELLS.

Interestingly, several of the SMSL companies have chosen to present new results from n-type cell lines; a key theme this year at PV CellTech. The full list of speakers is as follows:

• JA Solar, Wei Shan, CTO
• JinkoSolar, Qi Wang, Chief Scientist
• Hanwha Q CELLS Jörg Müller, Head of Department, R&D Wafer & Cells
• Trina Solar, Yifeng Chen, Vice Director – High Efficiency Cells R&D
• LONGi Solar (Cell/Module), Hongbin Fang, Director of Technical Marketing
• Canadian Solar, Guoqiang Xing, Senior VP & CTO
• GCL System Integration, Wei Wang, Solar Cell R&D Senior Manager
• Risen Energy, Huang Qiang, Technical VP


GCL-Poly and LONGi Solar to explain wafer supply in 2019

Key to mono adoption, n-type growth and the ongoing competitiveness between mono and multi modules, is wafer supply to the industry today. Once again at PV CellTech, talks will be given from the two leading wafer suppliers to the industry in the past few years for mono and multi: LONGi Solar and GCL-Poly.

Also featuring at PV CellTech for the first time will be an invited talk from advanced wafering specialist 1366 Technologies. Speakers from these companies are listed below now:

• LONGi Solar (Ingot/Wafer) Xie Tian, Director of Wafer Quality Management
• GCL Poly, Yuepeng Wan, CTO
• 1366 Technologies, Adam Lorenz, CTO


Special session on MWT to explain the current interest in wrap-through

For the first time at PV CellTech, we will have a dedicated session on metal wrap-through (MWT). Having been dormant for some time, there has been a strong uptick in capex from various global cell/module makers in the past couple of years.

The session contributors form the perfect package, to explain what the efficiency/cost benefits are when implementing MWT within advanced n-type and p-type structures. This includes the leading technology-transfer R&D institute for MWT (ECN, part of TNO), the dominant cell producer (Sunport Power), and the equipment company enabling many of the MWT module assembly factories worldwide (Eurotron).

Other multi-GW cell producers confirmed at PV CellTech 2019

In addition to the SMSL players, and other leading GW-plus cell producers, PV CellTech routinely features other cell producers that are having a significant impact on technology trends or non-China production channels.

This year, Boviet Solar will return, in which has become a great opportunity not simply to understand the multi-GW, multi-relationship-based cell/module capacity levels of Boviet, but also the emerging Vietnam landscape for both cell and module capacities, technologies and productivity.

A range of n-type focused cell makers will be featured at PV CellTech 2019, with Jinergy and Jolywood speakers shown below here. Others are expected to be added, helping the audience to understand more about the n-PERT, passivated contacting and HJT expansions underway within China (and elsewhere) today.

• Boviet Solar, Chung-Han Wu, CTO
• Jinneng Clean Energy Technology (Jinergy), Liyou Yang, CEO
• Jolywood, Zhifeng Liu, COO & R&D Director


Leading equipment and materials suppliers

Each year at PV CellTech, leading equipment and materials suppliers have been a key source of information, in particular for current upgrades and new-tool capex being deployed by the industry.
Again this year, almost all the established equipment and materials suppliers will be speaking about how they are pivotal to high-efficiency and low-cost operation of advanced cell production. The group of companies/speakers is shown below now:

• Meyer Burger, Gunter Erfurt, CTO
• Heraeus Photovoltaics, Weiming Zhang, Executive VP & CTO
• SCHMID Group, Christian Buchner, Vice President – Business Unit PV
• DuPont Photovoltaic & Advanced Materials, Guangyao Jin, Chief Scientist
• Von Ardenne, Eric Schneiderlöchner, Director – Crystalline Photovoltaics
• INDEOTec, Omid Shojaei, CEO
• Semco, Raymond de Munnik, VP Business Development
• Aurora Solar Technologies, Gordon Deans, CEO
• VITRONIC, Richard Moreth, Head of PV Sales


Research analysts, R&D institutes, and the 2019 ITRPV roadmap revealed!

The final grouping that will be speaking at PV CellTech 2019 includes other research bodies that have been explaining, forecasting and driving technology change within the PV industry over the past few decades.

As PV CellTech has gained traction in the PV industry since its launch four years ago, it has increasingly fulfilled the role of being the definitive technology roadmap event for the industry, including having the first disclosure of the new ITRPV roadmap each year in March.

This year, we are expanding the technology-roadmap session of PV CellTech, as shown below in this article.

Speakers from UNSW, Fraunhofer-ISE and SERIS will complement the afore-mentioned ECN representations at PV CellTech this year.

• ITRPV Steering Committee, Markus Fischer, Co-Chair
• University of New South Wales (UNSW), Alison Ciesla, Project Leader – Industry Collaborations, ARC Centre of Excellence in Advanced Silicon Photovoltaics & Photonics
• Fraunhofer ISE, Jochen Rentsch, Head of Department – Production Technology: Surfaces & Interfaces
• Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), Shubham Duttagupta, Head of Monocrystalline Silicon Wafer Solar Cell Group
• PV-Tech & Solar Media Ltd.: Finlay Colville, Head of Research & Conference Chair of PV CellTech


Full Day 1 and Day 2 session topics

Previously, I explained fully the sessions and scope of Day 1 at PV CellTech 2019, in an article here. The Day 2 content is shown below, in the fully-outlined event agenda update now.
Day 1 (12 March 2019):

• Morning Session 1: The cell production landscape in 2019: which technologies are really in mass production today?
• Morning Session 2: Keeping both multi and mono p-type cells competitive in the market
• Afternoon Session 1: New metal wrap through (MWT) developments to enhance advanced cell efficiencies in mass production
• Afternoon Session 2: Passivated contacts: what is needed for this process flow to become a mainstream offering in the PV industry?
• Afternoon Session 3: Heterojunction cell expansions: is 2019 to be a breakthrough year for HJT in multi-GW mass-production?

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.
• Morning Session 2: n-PERT and variants: benchmarking with state-of-the-art p-mono PERC and HJT/IBC mass production leaders
• Morning Session 3: Advanced inspection, yield optimization and cost-controlling measures; maximizing the potential of high-efficiency cell production with the lowest production costs
• Afternoon Session 1: PV technology roadmap I: the views of leading cell producers and materials/equipment suppliers
• Afternoon Session 2: PV technology roadmap II: forecasts from third-party trade bodies and PV-Tech

Day 2 has been structured carefully to follow through the main issue today that almost everyone wants to have answered.

First, what is the limit for p-mono PERC (with any of its add-ons, including half-cut cells, multi-wire grids and bifaciality)? This states the minimum level needed from n-type, but also represents a marker as to when any improvements in p-mono PERC efficiencies will be minimal in percentage terms.

Then, it is key for the industry to understand what can be expected when n-type variants (especially n-type with passivated contacting and HJT variants) are ramped successfully at the multi-GW level.
Part of this production line optimization is based on how much automation, inspection and smart-control of cell lines is undertaken, as a means of consistently producing n-type cell efficiencies at the upper ends of distributions, while at the same time narrowing the range of efficiencies per line/fab.

As outlined previously in this article, the entire afternoon on Day 2 is afforded to the PV Technology Roadmap. This part of the event will now hear the views of various companies and market observers, likely each offering different parts of the roadmap-jigsaw.

While the roadmap has always been critical to companies setting out mid to long-term plans, or simply having the best competitive insight available, the rate of technology progress has made this now essential to companies not being left with yesterday’s technology very quickly.

How to attend PV CellTech 2019

PV CellTech has been sold-out during the past few years, so please register quickly to avoid disappointment! Use the link here to sign up to attend.

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First Solar and Risen Energy included in new SMSL for 2019

When we established the Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) a few years ago, it was prompted by the realisation that a select group of solar PV module suppliers were moving away from the 100+ chasing pack, and firmly establishing themselves as the companies that would be the dominant players as the industry moved towards and above annual shipment levels of 100GW.

In the intervening period, we subsequently added and removed companies, allowing us to ring-fence a select group of companies that were supplying about half of the industry with final module products.

Indeed, the list quickly became far more useful than we had originally intended, with this group of companies supplying more than two-thirds of all modules used in large-scale projects for which the module supplier and the module technology in question is subject to technical and financial due-diligence tests by third-party agencies.

As a result, our list of companies in the SMSL became the de-facto list of top module suppliers that would typically be short-listed by investors/banks that were financing plant capex, or were the ultimate owners of the intended completed assets.

It is now time for us to refresh the SMSL entry conditions, and correspondingly re-evaluate the number of companies that will form the SMSL for 2019.

This article outlines the full list of companies forming the new SMSL for 2019, including a necessary tweaking of the nomenclature underpinning the SMSL abbreviation.

Solar Module Super League

The SMSL was formed in 2015, and included six companies: Canadian Solar, Hanwha Q-CELLS, JA Solar, Jinko Solar, Trina Solar, and Yingli Green. Early in 2016, GCL-SI replaced Yingli Green, as outlined in a feature article on here. Then in July 2016, we elevated LONGi Solar into the SMSL, creating a group of seven companies that have been the SMSL focus until now.

It should be noted that our creation of the SMSL was somewhat a by-product of simply highlighting the breakaway status of leading c-Si based module suppliers several years ago. Silicon Module was then a direct indication that only silicon-based module suppliers were in this upper echelon of industry supply levels.

However, moving forward, we have been forced – thanks to First Solar – to tweak the SMSL definition to become Solar Module Super League. This is of course rather pedantic by nature, but worth spelling out. We will continue to simply refer to the grouping as the SMSL!

Actually, during 2019, we intend to expand the generic SMSL methodology. This is now explained in the following sub-section.

Tearful prognosis of tier grouping misnomers

Amazingly, it is almost ten years ago that I wrote an article for PV-Tech about how the solar industry would be better off with Tier categories, having observed this as somewhat common practice in adjacent technology sectors.

Of course, little did I think that shortly after, a controversy would engulf the industry as to why company ‘X’ was Tier 1 but company ‘Y’ was not? Or why some companies assigned to be Tier 1 had barely 100MW of module-only capacity in-house?

Or why some companies that were clearly among the most ‘bankable’ in the PV industry and had been used in multi-GW of institutional-investor funded projects were also absent from certain lists posted in the public-domain.

Some observers would also question if the Altman-Z scoring methodology had much relevance to the solar industry, and should be part of any analysis on solar module producers/suppliers. 

The Altman-Z scoring was originally configured as a means of extracting common financial metrics and doing a statistical-derived weighted analysis to highlight imminent bankruptcies. Hardly a tool for judging which modules to buy tomorrow!

Of all the questions I have had in the last decade, by far the most frequent and passionately articulated has centred on the company-listing inclusion used by different parties for tier-level categorization of solar companies.

The reason for all this narrative is because an increasing number of people have been using the SMSL as a more real-world assessment of which module companies are the true bankable suppliers of utility scale solar installations globally.

This was definitely not meant to be the role of the SMSL! But I can certainly see how the simplicity and transparency of SMSL categorization is attractive to so many people.

I think the argument here could be based on the straightforward conclusion that if a small group of companies are clearly and consistently supplying most of the major large-scale sites globally, they are by default the most bankable. It is not a bad assumption, and many would argue that reality trumps any competing academic theories any day of the week.

Having set up the SMSL, and seeing this gain traction in many quarters, it begs the question of whether this ‘League’ should have some kind of lower listing.

Anyway, this is work-in-progress, but it is motivated by the fact that there are probably about 20-30 credible module suppliers that compete as bankable for large-scale global utility-based solar today, and the new SMSL, as shown below, is confined to just nine.

The new SMSL

Starting in 2019, we are setting the bar at a minimum of 5GW of company-branded global module shipments expected in 2019. This turns out to be a good marker, as the group of companies in this bracket is well-defined; another prerequisite of the SMSL grouping itself.

The graphic below reveals the new SMSL companies, all of which were featured on our recent Top-10 Module Suppliers in 2018 article on PV-Tech.

Why the SMSL matters when looking global, non-China and utility-focused

It is worth noting first that none of the nine SMSL companies has yet to issue any guidance for module shipment levels during 2019, and even when this comes (at least from the few companies left reporting on NASDAQ/NYSE), we can of course expect a fairly wide range to be given, tinged with a dose of expectation-dumbing or sandbagging.

Rather, our current forecasted shipment levels for the SMSL companies (and indeed our forecasts for the other 10-20 other GW level module suppliers with appreciable business outside China) is based on 2018 shipment levels, traction in end-markets that have positive growth dynamics, and assessing trends in the past couple of years regarding in-house capacity levels and third-party OEM-use.

Lastly, good old-fashioned (human) engagement with all the companies still remains our most valued means of checking historic and future shipment levels and related geographic segmentation.

Now let’s look more at some of the consolidated data from the new SMSL grouping that firmly shows why this grouping is the most important part of the industry this year.

During 2019, the SMSL is forecast to ship 73-74GW of modules, of which 63-64GW will be made in-house with the remainder coming from third-party OEMs (mostly either in China or Vietnam from subservient partners).

Representing almost 60% of global module shipments in 2019, the contribution from the new SMSL can be seen to grow annually over the past years. 

For example, back in 2013, this SMSL grouping supplied just 27% of global modules, reaching the 50% mark in 2016, and seeing single-digit percentage growth annually out to the forecast given here for 2019.

As highlighted earlier in the article, the dominance of the SMSL becomes more pronounced when we remove China shipments and then restrict shipments to large-scale ground-mount projects. With these filters applied, the 60% moves closer to 80%, this is therefore in territory that fully supports the SMSL designation as being among the closest today when looking at module supplier bankability.

Most of the SMSL companies will be presenting company technology roadmaps at the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 event in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019. Details on how to register to attend can be found here.

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Solar Frontier achieves CIS thin-film lab efficiency record of 23.35%

Solar Frontier has achieved a conversion efficiency of 23.35% on a 1cm² CIS solar PV cell, the highest verified figure for a cell of this type.

The thin-film solar company, launched and headquartered in Japan as a subsidiary of oil company Shell in the 1970s, said it developed the record-breaking cell through joint research with Japan’s national New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO). 

The result was verified by the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) back in November, with Solar Frontier making the announcement this month.

Solar Frontier had also held the previous record for efficiency with its cadmium-free proprietary CIS (copper, indium selenide) thin-film, registering 22.9% efficiency in late 2017.

Solar Frontier said research and development into new technologies and processes, including CIS absorber engineering and “enhanced surface treatment of the absorber” contributed towards the 0.4% jump in efficiency.

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Intevac finally recognises revenue on three ‘ENERGi’ solar ion implant tools

Specialist semiconductor and PV equipment supplier Intevac has said that it finally recognised into revenue on three of four ‘ENERGi’ solar ion implant tools, which had already been shipped to a PV manufacturing customer in China in the third quarter of 2017. 

Intevac had originally secured an order for 12 ‘ENERGi’ solar ion implant tools in March, 2017, which were designed to be used at a new 1GW manufacturing plant to fabricate N-type mono IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) solar cells and modules. The order was valued at around US$23 million.
Subsequent delays, which included the manufacturing plant construction delays and initial change in cell architecture to n-PERT (Passivated Emitter Rear Totally-diffused cell) was said to have created further delays through 2018. 

“I’m pleased to report the long-awaited shipment of four of the nine ENERGi tools in backlog has occurred and a revenue this month,” commented Wendell Blonigan, president and chief executive officer of Intevac, during an earnings call with financial analysts. “With the current agreements in place, the remaining five ENERGi tools are scheduled for delivery in the second half of the year. These five tools are included in our full year outlook.”

“The first three tools that revenued in Q4 passed all factory acceptance criteria and were formally signed off by the customer in December. So like the tools shipped in January, the remaining tools in backlog will revenue at shipment,” added Blonigan.

The company noted that the remaining five ENERGi tools in its order backlog were scheduled to be delivered in the second half of 2019. 

The order backlog at the beginning of 2019, includes nine ENERGi systems, according to the company.

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JinkoSolar touts new LeTID testing standards as its solar cells show minimal degradation

Leading ‘Silicon Module Super League’ (SMSL) member JinkoSolar has highlighted success using new LeTID (Light elevated Temperature Induced Degradation) testing standards in minimising performance losses in its P-type mono-PERC and N-type monocrystalline solar cells.

JinkoSolar said that it had focused on reducing the oxygen and metal contents in its P-type mono-PERC and N-type monocrystalline wafers to reduce the impact of LeTID, which resulted in its P-type mono-PERC cell efficiencies only degrading by around 1%, while its N-type monocrystalline cells efficiencies only degraded 0.2%. 

The tests were conducted using newly established methodologies that would be incorporated into the forthcoming IEC 63202-1 standard. This includes solar cells tested under conditions of 75°C, 1000W/m2 and 500h testing time.

Testing was undertaking by Wind Power Systems Quality Test Center, IEE, and CAS.

Dr. Jin Hao, Vice President of JinkoSolar commented: “The LeTID of modules is a result of the degradation of solar cells, including both LID and LeTID of cells. The testing method employed was conducted outdoors and is referenced in the Standard. The strong testing results of JinkoSolar’s monocrystalline products were a result of the Company’s sustained and large investment in R&D.”

Dr Hao has been the IEC 63202-1 standard chief editor and Chair of the IEC/TC82 Standards Workgroup. This Standard has also been verified by VDE and Intertek, two authoritative certification authorities, according to JinkoSolar.

PV Tech has been featuring the LeTID issues, which includes a detailed insight by Dr Radovan Kopecek, one of the founders of ISC Konstanz as well as a free technical paper overview of the issues from Meng Xiajie of LONGi Solar.

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JinkoSolar pushes N-type TOPCon solar cell to record 24.2% conversion efficiency

‘Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) leader JinkoSolar has achieved a record conversion efficiency of 24.2% for a large-area N-type TOPCon (Tunnel Oxide Passivated Contact) solar cell, verified by the Photovoltaic and Wind Power Systems Quality Test Center at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Back in 2013, Fraunhofer ISE had reported an N-type TOPCon solar cell with a 24% conversion efficiency. 

To break the record, JinkoSolar used tunnel oxide passivating contact technology on a high quality N-type monocrystalline wafer with selective doping and advanced fine-line printing.

Fraunhofer ISE had previously noted that a key hurdle in reaching high efficiencies with n-Type wafer/cells was the patterning scheme of the rear contact as the rear side metal contacts are an efficiency limiting factor.

JinkoSolar said that its N-type ‘HOT’ technology was a key R&D milestone that opened up a new path towards developing high-efficiency commercial products that competed with HIT (Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin-layer) and IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) technologies.

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Top 10 solar module suppliers in 2018

This article reveals the top 10 module suppliers of 2018, based purely on own-brand shipped module MWp-dc volumes. This ranking complements our recently published top 10 cell producers feature.

For the past few years, we have sought to compile the top 10 module supplier list before the end of January (or at the latest before the Chinese new year). In practice, with the first two weeks of the year being a reset from any prior-year shipment rush or inventory clear-out, we end up having a couple of weeks to get the top 10 module supplier rankings done.

By carefully tracking the main contenders during 2018, this gives us a good idea of what the top 10 will look like, but when we get initial (unreported) confirmation during January, there are always a few surprises.

The counting in the past couple of weeks did not disappoint, and while the industry leader for 2018 was largely known from the start of the year, a few contenders did perform strongly during 2H’18 which is confirmed by the rankings list shown in the article here.

Some others – more reliant on China for shipments – suffered more during 2H’18 owing to the reset that occurred after China-531, and especially those module suppliers lacking access to overseas markets, being cash-constrained and with no Southeast Asia manufacturing to utilize then.

Before we get to the top 10 listing shown, it is essential to understand what ‘module supply’ means, because this still remains broadly misunderstood in the PV industry today. Even when we check companies for numbers, we find we are having to constantly explain to them what module-shipment really means!

Methodology explained

Ranking the module suppliers purely on branded end-user (whether in-house EPC or third-party installer/EPC) shipments has become increasingly harder in the past few years, with an uptick in both module tolling (where production numbers do not translate to shipment figures) and the use of rebranded OEM module outsourcing (which count as module supply).

For example, some multi-GW module producers in China may have ‘produced’ very high levels of modules, but shipment numbers are markedly lower owing to these companies being used heavily on a tolling basis by peers in China that have access to module sales pipelines to downstream outlets. Using underutilized production lines as a tolling service for other companies does not count as a module shipment!

This is also relevant for some module producers today in Southeast Asia, in particular, Vietnam, as it has always been for contract modules manufacturers like Flex (formerly Flextronics), Celestica and Jabil, to name just three.

Similarly, other companies in China that have global brand recognition, or have downstream operations that drive the need for in-house branded modules – and who lack readily available owned cell/module operations outside China – typically have module shipment numbers much higher than in-house module production levels (or indeed any nameplate of effective module capacity levels).

In fact, looking across the top 20 module suppliers for 2018, almost every c-Si player (19 of the top 20) is subject to the above two caveats when ranking module supply figures for the year. By default somewhat, First Solar remains the only (top 10) company that can lay claim to having 100% own-produced module supply.

Another challenge in rankings relates to the numbers being reported (or not) by PV companies these days, particularly in light of the current trend of delisting from non-Chinese stock exchanges where the expectation from western observers for production clarity tends to be far greater than any other reporting channels.

Ultimately, the methodology behind all companies’ shipment levels has become rather bespoke, even for the ones that are still releasing MW or revenue numbers on a quarterly basis on NASDAQ or the NYSE for example. Some companies also like to quote a-sum-of-all shipments (wafers, cells, modules, and tolling services), which misleads certain third-party observers each year.

Thankfully however, the delta between the top-10 and then to the nearest number-11 is modest, meaning that the current (preliminary) ranking shown below is probably the final and correct version that will unfold over the next 3-4 months as reported data of sorts trickles out into mainstream press and social media outlets. We will correct any changes in a few months of course.

The top 8 are pretty much known with high certainty at this point; the final two entries are likely correct, with any other lists probably not differentiating between the various categories outlined above (in particular module-only numbers and tolling services).

For reference, during 2018, the top 10 module suppliers shipped nearly 60% of all modules to the industry.

And finally, here is our estimate of the top 10 module supplier ranking table for 2018:

Commenting on the top 10 companies

While JinkoSolar’s position as leading global module supplier during 2018 was barely in doubt during the year, the most interesting changes were seen across the remaining companies in the rankings table above.

JA Solar established itself as JinkoSolar’s closest rival globally, with the two companies having made strong investments into mono PERC and being firmly committed to Southeast Asia manufacturing hubs to complement Chinese factories.

Trina Solar saw its ranking fall in 2018, as the company went through a year of adjustment coupled with cost savings exercises. However, a strong second-half maintained top 3 status for the company.

LONGi was another winner in 2018, with a strong company focus on seeking non-Chinese module supply growth in most major end-markets. This strategy is expected to continue during 2019.
Hanwha Q-CELLS saw its ranking fall in 2018, with the company adjusting to previous Section 201 implications for US shipments, technology upgrades to lines in China, and a less ambitious growth trajectory that overlapped with its going-private actions during the year.

Canadian Solar set less ambitious module shipment targets during 2018, with its business model still fundamentally driven by downstream project acquisition, build-out and phased sales to global secondary market long-term owners.

Risen Energy made strong gains in 2018, driven largely by highly effective downstream project activity across Asia that puts the company on a par with Canadian Solar in the grouping above.
GCL-SI maintained top 10 status, but the company’s non-China operations is still a work-in-progress, with all capacity still located in China.

Having been just outside the top 10 in 2017, Talesun is a new entrant to the global top 10 listing for 2018. The company had been one of the first multi-GW capacity Chinese-based companies to focus on non-domestic business (similar to Risen Energy) and its inclusion in the top 10 in 2018 should not come as a surprise.

Finally in the top 10 rankings above, First Solar remains the only non-Asian and only non-c-Si based company to feature. The company went through most of 2018 with sales demand outstripping module supply, allowing the company to control the phasing of Series 4 and Series 6 line utilizations and ramp-ups.

Just outside the top 10 there were other multi-GW module producers, some of which produced more modules than companies in the top 10 list, but were often used as tolling sources for other companies, pulling down their final estimated module shipment figures.

What to expect in 2019

When we come to review the top 10 module suppliers in 2019, do not expect too many adjustments; rather some internal reshuffling. In fact, it is likely nine or the top 10 will almost certainly be in the top 10 for 2019, with the top 6 the same.

Like 2018, the top 5 are likely to be all Chinese companies, depending on whether Hanwha Q-CELLS has a successful rebound in 2019 or not, with Jinko’s #1 status again simply not in doubt.
First Solar is expected to move further up the rankings, but this depends on the success of Series 6 during the year.

Of course, aside from being a dream for marketing teams looking to claim leading-supply status or show Y/Y progress, shipment-by-MW-volume is just one part of what really matters in 2019. Module ASPs, cost-structures and profit margins reign supreme of course.

But for those multi-GW players that are satisfied with 10-15% gross margins, then the more product that ships, the better.

Perhaps again, leading multi-GW status in 2019 will owe a considerable part to being one-step ahead of the industry when enacting flexibility in the use of in-house and third-party suppliers, having the correct balance of cell/module capacity inside and outside China, and always offering the optimum performing product to each key global market at ASPs that work also for key customers.

Many of the top 10 module suppliers will be outlining their in-house cell production roadmaps at the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 event in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019.

In the past, companies that stepped up module shipments to lead global rankings often did this at the expense of in-house cell R&D. Therefore, for those looking to see which of the top 10 module suppliers are also cell production leaders in 2019 and beyond, PV CellTech 2019 should offer key findings in this regard.

To register to attend PV CellTech 2019 in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, please follow the links at the event website here.

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PV CellTech 2019 to focus on what-next-after-PERC? Part 1 of 2

PV CellTech 2019 takes place in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, and once again will feature keynote presentations from CTOs and heads-of-R&D from the leading multi-GW cell producers of the industry in 2019.

Now that p-mono PERC cell production is set to be the dominant technology architecture in the PV industry in 2019 (as revealed in a blog on PV-Tech last week), it is the perfect time to address the most important question now for the PV Technology Roadmap: what next after PERC?

Indeed, with PV CellTech offering a glimpse into the future of solar cell mass production (2-3 years out), many of the attendees and speakers at previous events had been flagging this question when it was clear there was a mass migration from Al-BSF cells to rear-passivation layers and local contact openings.

Therefore, PV CellTech 2019 will address the what-next-after-PERC question in depth in March 2019, coming at it from different angles, indicative of the various next-technology approaches seen across the industry today.

To fully address the scope of the topics on offer at PV CellTech 2019, I have split the write-up here into two separate blogs. Part 1 will cover key speakers and topics for Day 1. A follow-up blog later this week will go through the content of Day 2.

In each of the two blogs, I reflect on the relevance of topics and themes chosen for PV CellTech 2019, while highlighting some of the key questions that will hopefully be answered during the two days in Penang.

The full agenda can be viewed via the tabs on the PV CellTech website here, including details also on how to attend the event in March.

Opening session at PV CellTech to showcase JA Solar and Hanwha Q-CELLS

The conference opens with three talks, including invited keynotes from the two most prolific c-Si cell producers of the past five years: JA Solar and Hanwha Q-CELLS. The session will be rounded out by the first of two talks I will give at PV CellTech this year.

Indeed, it is great news that the CTO of JA Solar, Dr. Wei Shan, will again be presenting at PV CellTech. In fact, the timing in March 2019 for JA Solar to be kicking off PV CellTech 2019 could not be more apt, with recent PV-Tech analysis putting JA Solar as the number-one ranked cell producer by volume during 2018.

This is the first time that JA Solar has headed the annual cell production rankings, something that reflects the fact that JA Solar began its life as a cell producer and was unique in China as being high-efficiency cell focused. JA Solar was the first in China to seek to mass produce many advanced cell concepts.

High efficiency cells from JA Solar have included PERCIUM (PERC), RIECIUM (reactive ion etch, subsequently a leading type of black silicon cell), WRACIUM (wrap-through, a legacy advanced cell concept now seeing a mini-revival and to be featured in PV CellTech this year for the first time), and SECIUM (an early selective emitter concept that used for former Innovalight ink, that was subsequently morphed into the doped paste that transformed front-side screen printing of fingers).

Hearing the CTO of JA Solar, Dr. Shan, delivering the opening talk at PV CellTech 2019 is certain to be one of the highlights of PV CellTech 2019!

Anyone that has attended the past three PV CellTech conferences will have heard me say many times that the two companies that have been at the forefront of multi-GW cell production using high-efficiency designs, over the past decade, have been JA Solar and Hanwha Q-CELLS.

Outside of the bespoke n-type production of SunPower and Panasonic (former Sanyo), it was JA Solar and (then) Q-CELLS (from Germany and Malaysia production) that set the benchmarks for p-type cell efficiencies in multi-GW mass production. While JA Solar had a dual mono/multi cell production strategy, Q-CELLS was focused entirely on multi for mass production.

This multi-focus from Q-CELLS, and its headcount of leading cell physicists from European research institutes, was a key driver to Q-CELLS being the first company to scale PERC into mass production, quickly upgrading all its lines in Malaysia. For some time, Q-CELLS (and subsequently Hanwha Q-CELLS) was the main proponent of PERC-based modules to the market. 

The company’s reliance in using only its in-house cells for modules was also a further sign in the company having mastered PERC reliability (in particular understanding degradation mechanisms and the key specifications needed from wafer supply). Other companies with in-house PERC (such as REC Solar across its Singapore cell lines) were known to rely also on cells coming from newly-ramped multi PERC lines in Taiwan, for example.

Over the last five years, collectively JA Solar and Hanwha Q-CELLS have produced approximately 42GW of solar cells in-house, well above any other pair of companies in the solar industry. 

Therefore, simply finding out what is on the roadmap from these two companies alone is worth the ticket-entrance for PV CellTech 2019! As such this forms our first main question to be answered at the event in March!

Evaluating p-type mono and multi competiveness in 2019

The second morning session on Day 1 at PV CellTech 2019 will take a fresh look at what has been the most hotly-debated topic during the past few years at the event: mono-or-multi?

The question is often overplayed in the PV industry, with some companies swearing by multi as still being the most bankable module solution across many GW-scale markets outside China.

Ultimately, each cell technology is still critical to the industry moving north of 120GW this year, and to 200GW in the next few years.

The session will therefore hear from some of the companies that continue to drive multi cell efficiencies forward, in particular Canadian Solar. The company – and its Senior VP and CTO Dr. Guoqiang Xing – has been a regular speaker at PV CellTech in the past few years, and he will again be offering an insight into Canadian Solar’s cell technology roadmap for 2019. Of all the companies in the PV industry today with multi-GW cell and module production levels, Canadian Solar is probably the leading benchmark in assessing how multi keeps competitive with mono. Canadian Solar now has industry-leading multi-PERC cell production levels and has introduced a host of efficiency-additive processes here in the past few years.

Included in this session also is Dr. Chung-Han Wu, the CTO of multi-GW producer Boviet Solar. Dr. Wu’s presentation at PV CellTech 2018 was one of the highlights of the conference and many will be keen to see how many of the technology roadmap options are still being pursued across Boviet’s production lines in Vietnam.

Metal-wrap through (MWT) technology update at PV CellTech 2019

The morning session on Day 1 concludes with a mini-session on metal wrap through cell technologies. Until a few years ago, MWT was widely considered as a technology that was tried-and-tested 10-15 years ago, and unlikely not to see any great resurgence.

Not the case! Indeed, aided in part by the desire to differentiate production lines in China post-Top-Runner variants, MWT capacity has been added in no inconsiderable amounts in China over the past 12-18 months, and a host of module assembly companies are lining up supply deals to offer this technology-type to various rooftop markets across Europe and the US.

In the past however, MWT was mainly seen as a stand-alone bespoke cell architecture. However, its somewhat-modest merits in terms of cell efficiency deltas and subsequent reduction in cell-to-module losses did not get the widespread backing of the PV industry. As such, the technology rather fell back to the research labs.

The new USP for MWT though is as a process flow extra to the current range of PERC, n-PERT and other high-efficiency platforms.
In seeking to find out the true capability of MWT, there is no better institute to offer an overview than ECN which championed MWT cells out of the research labs 10-15 years ago through various European-based collaborations. PV CellTech 2019 will hear from Dr. Arthur Weeber, senior scientist specialist at ECN (part of TNO).

Hopefully, by the end of the MWT mini-session, the industry as a whole will have a clear indication of what can, and can’t be done with MWT, and how via hole drilling with back-contacts can help in giving some cell producers a value-added against the 80GW-plus of mono-PERC capacity currently in the industry.

Explaining the n-type capex excitement

The whole of the Day 1 afternoon is set aside for n-type cell capacity and production trends. With p-mono PERC now the mainstream choice in 2019, the timing again is perfect to evaluate what has been happening with n-type investments (largely across China and pockets of Europe) during 2017-2018.

Nobody doubts the capability of n-type as the ultimate wafer substrate, and the two leading proponents for cell architectures – IBC and HJT – have been well-proven at the GW-scale levels, albeit by one manufacturer only in each case: at least from the context of cell efficiency, if not from a cost perspective in a world of 25-30c/$ module ASPs.

In fact, one should add LG Electronics as the other one-off leader in the n-PERT variant of cell production, where many parallels can be drawn with SunPower and Panasonic as the other n-type champions of the last decade. Each company has invested heavily into R&D, developed in-house tool know-how that retains ownership of IP, and saw the cell side as key to having a differentiated module offering (largely now confined to rooftops globally).

This largely frames what we have seen in the past few years with n-PERT (mostly in China) and HJT (in China, Taiwan and Europe). Here the aim is to emulate cell efficiencies but with a different cost structure that allows competing (at a minimum) with state-of-the-art p-type modules on an LCOE basis, and having a product that can serve large-scale ground-mount installations with bifaciality.

The first part of the afternoon session of Day 1 at PV CellTech 2019 will look at passivated contacts, as a next-generation process flow on the rear side of solar cells. Passivated contacting is not new to mass production and some of the n-type leaders (outlined above) have been successful incorporating this into generations of cell lines.

Different approaches are on the table today, and there is a vibrant institute-driven technology-transfer climate that seeks to enable cell producers to implement the necessary production line upgrades or new line capability.

Passivated contacting certainly does not fall into the options that feature in the what-next-after-PERC debate. Rather, they should be viewed in their own context and what this allows for in the first instance; across companies in China in particular that are driven to mimic the high-efficiency process flow that exists only at LG Electronics today – at least as it relates to the overarching n-PERT devotees.

Heterojunction success in 2019 could still be the big news for the PV industry

In looking at all the n-type options today, HJT remains the one that could have the greatest impact in the industry. Investments are at record levels; leading equipment makers are prioritizing this tool set; and for new entrants, this offers the most compelling argument to investors when looking at being technology-differentiated from p-type in 2-3 years.

While n-type solutions collectively have certain intrinsic benefits over any p-type platform, HJT is perhaps the solution that comes closest to using thin-film deposition tools that exist from various equipment makers, and where much of the know-how is aligned with various steps deployed in the flat panel display industry. HJT is a natural also to use sub-120 micron wafers in the future.

If a-Si thin-film ended up a distraction for many tool makers (not to mention the unfortunate outcomes suffered by all the turn-key end-users), then HJT could still be the reality-check and where the real opportunity still lies. In fact, if HJT comes through big-time in 2019/2020, it will be largely down to the tool makers.

The final session on Day 1 will therefore be all about HJT from some of the leading deposition tool suppliers, not to mention some of the companies that have moved into mass production in the past 12 months.

Signing up for PV CellTech 2019

To register to attend PV CellTech 2019 in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, please follow the links at the event website here.

The second part of this blog series will appear on PV-Tech later this week, looking at the key topics and speakers for Day 2 of the event.

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