Category: Blogs

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 PV-Tech.org 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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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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Mono PERC cell production to lead solar industry in 2019

Back in 2014, p-type mono PERC cell production was less than 1GW. During 2019, production is forecast to exceed 60GW as the dominant technology type deployed by the solar industry for module assembly.

The dramatic growth in production has also been matched by continuous cell efficiency and module power improvements, including a new record (24.06%) in the past few days announced by LONGi Solar.

This article discusses the factors that have led to the dramatic growth in p-type mono PERC production in the past few years, cell efficiency increases, and how p-type mono PERC performance will continue to set the benchmarks for new n-type entrants in China over the next 12-18 months.

The topics covered in this article will also be featured in the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 conference in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019, in which many of the CTO’s and head-of-R&D will be presenting on company technology roadmaps for the coming years.

Growth of p-mono PERC

The use of rear passivation layers had originally been confined to highly advanced cell concepts such as heterojunction and interdigitated back-contact cells, with mainstream p-type cells using the established screen-printed Al-BSF method.

Depositing passivation layers on p-type cells was well established in the research community however, but was not justified before based on equipment cost and the additional complexity in cell lines. Moving away from screen-printing was recognized as key in opening up the rear surface for additional benefits such as bifaciality, not to mention any industry move to wafer thicknesses being reduced to below about 120 microns.

After the solar industry went into a capex downturn in 2012 (prior to which there had been strong Asian investments into p-type multi cell lines), attention focused on efficiency optimization on existing lines and removing cost.

During 2012 to 2014, front pastes improved significantly, with increased bus-bar formation also driving efficiencies higher with minimal capex. Once front surface cell processing had gone through these improvement phases, it was time for the industry to focus on the rear surface, with the first evidence that rear passivation layers would quickly move to mainstream status.

While initial efforts came from European-originated research that flowed into production lines in Malaysia (Hanwha Q-CELLS) and Singapore (REC Solar), the big change happened during 2016-2017 as mono wafer supply moved from niche semiconductor-pulling tools to multi-GW mono pulling factories in China (almost entirely down to LONGi’s aggressive push to commoditize mono wafer supply on a par with multi in China).

The graphic below illustrates how much PERC has been adopted by p-mono cell producers. Indeed, during 2019, more than 50% of cell production in the industry will be from p-mono PERC; a dramatic growth trajectory rarely seen so quickly in the PV industry before.

Efficiency improvements

The growth in cell production has also been matched by a collective drive from the industry to push R&D and mass-production cell efficiencies well above the 20% level, and into territories previously considered by market observers to be the sole domain of n-type variants.

Average cell efficiencies in mass production for p-mono PERC cells have moved from initial levels of about 19% to over 21% at the end of 2018, with record levels from commercial pilot-line or R&D lines on full-size cells at levels well above this.

Indeed, most recently, LONGi Solar reported another world record for full-cell size p-mono PERC cells at above 24%, covered on PV-Tech earlier this week.

Setting the benchmark for n-type cell additions

The continued capacity expansions and efficiency increases seen from p-mono PERC based cell producers is coming also at a time when investments in n-type alternative (in particular n-PERT and HJT) are being seen in the industry.

While in the past, any new n-type entrant would benchmark performance against the two existing cell makers of n-type advanced cells (SunPower and Panasonic), today it is p-type mono PERC (and bifacial variants) that is setting the levels that these new n-type entrants need to match at a bare minimum, to justify their existence.

This is creating a fascinating dynamic, and one that is set to be explored fully at the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 event in Penang, Malaysia on 12-13 March 2019. Leading p-mono PERC producers, including the new holder of the world-record cited above, LONGi Solar, will be presenting latest production results and future roadmaps at the event. To learn more about PV CellTech 2019, or to register to attend, please follow the link here.

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Top-10 solar cell producers of 2018

Solar cell production in 2018 represented change on many fronts, but may be remembered as a year during which Chinese-owned companies made further strategic moves as part of the current Beijing mandate to position the country as a high-tech manufacturing global powerhouse.

This article explains how this is having a dramatic impact on solar cell manufacturing outside the control of leading Chinese-funded companies, and what this really means in terms of solar cell technologies and industry-wide technology roadmaps during 2019.

The content and scope of the article also sets out the topics that will form the 2-day agenda of the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 conference in Penang, Malaysia during 12-13 March 2019.

Understanding why cell production has changed

When the first wave of capacity expansions occurred in China about ten years ago, it was followed by various forms of vertical integration during which many companies established GW-scale cell and module manufacturing facilities. While this occurred, there was still a place for pure-play cell production in other countries such as Taiwan.

As a result of this, cell production globally saw top-10 lists comprised of different Chinese and Taiwanese companies, alongside more established producers such as SunPower, REC Solar and Q-CELLS (subsequently South Korean controlled Hanwha Q-CELLS). For a while also, representation was provided by Japan through companies such as Kyocera and Sharp Solar.

At about the same time as Taiwan cell production grew, there was a dramatic decline in cell production in Japan where costs were simply too high to compete with Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturing benchmarks.

Over time, Chinese companies took more of a lead, based purely on capex to scale from 1GW to the 3-5GW level. Outside China, the only company to match these capacity expansions was Hanwha Q-CELLS, with ambitious new factory builds in South Korea.

However, in the past couple of years, a further shift has occurred during which Taiwan cell production has been scaled back, overlapping with the growth of new pure-play specialists in China, most notably Tongwei and Aiko. These new entrants are woven into the fabric of China manufacturing aspirations, being central to the supply-channels that extends back to wafer supply from the likes of LONGi and Zhonghuan, and forward to anyone making a module in China.

Notably, Tongwei and Aiko did not seek to reinvent the wheel: rather, it was more of the same p-type mono and multi, but with the 1GW benchmark of before becoming a staggering 10GW, and expansion plans in multiples of 5GW that appear to rather ignore any red flags in terms of market supply, trade-wars and upstream over-capacity fears.

In fact, without tariffs in place, it is simply impossible for non-Chinese companies to compete with the likes of Tongwei and Aiko, if p-type cell business was the end game. Thankfully, this is not the case. What is has done however is force cell production outside China to concentrate on value-added differentiation, which is basically another way of introducing n-type into the discussion here. More on this below as in relates to the 2019 cell production landscape expected.

Revealing the top-10 cell producers by volume

The first thing to point out is that the list below is preliminary and will be subject to some minor tweaks once we learn more about cell line utilization rates during the past few months of 2018 of all the major cell producers today.

We have a grouping of four companies (JA Solar, Trina Solar, JinkoSolar and Canadian Solar) that can be viewed as global module brand-recognized integrated cell/module producers that all produce multi-GW of cells in-house (in both China and Southeast Asia facilities), while using domestic Chinese third-party cell supply from the likes of Tongwei and Aiko, for example. JA Solar and JinkoSolar have largely repositioned as p-mono PERC cell producers, Trina Solar is in the process of making the change, and Canadian Solar still retaining a multi-loyalty of sorts.

Hanwha Q-CELLS is largely one of a kind when looking at the companies, and the closest thing in solar today that allows us to draw parallels with Korean conglomerate activities in the flat panel display sector. From a global module brand perspective, the company is similar to the four major Silicon Module Super League (SMSL) players above. 

Cell production differs as having a major contribution from South Korea that has been prioritised in recent years for capex, versus the legacy Solarfun sites in China and Q-CELLS in Malaysia.

LONGi Solar also is unique in our top-10 listing in many ways, most notably in the extent of its full value-chain (ingot to module), but in particular the scale and positioning of its ingot pulling business in China. More coverage on LONGi Solar will feature in our subsequent reviews of poly/ingot/wafer production and module-supply blogs on PV-Tech over the next few weeks.

Shunfeng (or from a cell production standpoint Wuxi Suntech) is another one-off in the category above, and the leading example of a legacy Chinese cell/module powerhouse (Suntech) that has managed to sustain production levels at meaningful levels, propped up by the domestic market and in the absence of overseas cell/module options or strong global module business levels. Capex limitations have prevented any major shift from p-type multi production.

As mentioned earlier, Tongwei and Aiko should be grouped together. These companies have been one factor behind the demise of the Taiwan cell industry, and their contributions to cell production will only increase during 2019. It remains to be seen if 20GW cell capacities per company with single-digit margins will simply cause a domino effect of removing even more cell competitors, or if they will get diverted from their current raison d’être through illusions of grandeur (such as trying to become global module suppliers).

Finally, we have the only meaningful thin-film solar cell producer globally today, First Solar, more on which below.

China n-type innovation: a global threat or another turn-key thin-film capex flurry?

Normally one would expect announcements of GW n-type expansions to come from companies that had either spent years learning R&D and pilot-line skills, or companies that had a proven track record in multi-GW of p-type mono cell manufacturing. Or indeed from companies that had existing n-type knowledge and were seeking to grow business levels.

Therefore, it is not crazy to have doubts about n-type capacity expansions in China that have occurred in 2018 and will continue during this year. I will return to this more in other blogs, as trying to explain fully does merit discussion in its own right.

For now however, it should be pointed out that virtually nothing from the top-10 companies shown above is coming from n-type in 2018, and the strategies of almost all the n-type entrants in China in the past 12-18 months are focussed entirely on meeting domestic carve-out needs from Top Runner variants.

But for equipment makers, it is for now a period of capex excitement. And why not? The stakes are very high, and if a few of the new n-type GW plants shows success, this could change the entire solar industry overnight and force n-type onto the immediate roadmap of every solar cell maker globally. 

In 2018 also, many of the p-type cell leaders made first moves into n-type territory and new capacity will come online here in 2019 for sure.

The last major expansion for bespoke deposition equipment in the solar industry (PVD/PECVD) was about ten years ago, in the form of turn-key a-Si based production lines. Several billion dollars was spent with the likes of Applied Materials, Oerlikon and ULVAC, endless resources were afforded to marketing campaigns; today, a-Si is no more than a token gesture and for all purposes dead.

The current n-type landscape is very different however, as it is still the natural roadmap evolution of everything p-type which is over 90% of solar industry annual consumption. And today mono is dominating multi, and we have low-cost ingot pulling in China ready to flip to supply n-type capacity additions. This changes everything, suggesting it is a matter of time for n-type, but just maybe not via the first wave of companies undertaking major investments during 2017/2018.

First Solar gains the technology award for 2018

If awards existed for most-impressive achievement for cell technology in mass production, one may decide First Solar was the winner here in 2018. It is hard to convey how impressive the move from Series 4 to Series 6 has been, or indeed the mere fact that it occurred in the first instance.

In contrast to almost all the capex in China by c-Si cell market-leaders – which was low-risk, low barrier-to-entry large-scale roll-out of known p-type multi or mono (Al-BSF or PERC) that was originally pioneered in mass production by Western companies – First Solar’s Series 4 to Series 6 came on the back of 20 years of in-house R&D investments and a relationship with equipment suppliers that is unique within the solar industry today.

Add to this running Series 4 lines typically at 95-99% utilization rates and moving CdTe module efficiencies to unchartered waters, and you begin to see how First Solar from a cell production standpoint is not simply differentiated in technology (thin-film, not c-Si) but from a manufacturing business perspective.

2018 marks a return to thin-film being a feature of the top-10 cell production rankings, and while Series 6 is still in a ramp-up phase and costs still need to be fully established, it is likely First Solar’s ranking will improve when the summary of cell production in 2019 is undertaken.

PV CellTech 2019 to explain cell production in 2019/2020

Going into its fourth year, the forthcoming PV CellTech 2019 conference (Penang, Malaysia, 12-13 March 2019) will again be the go-to event of the year to hear from the CTO’s of the top-10 cell producers, many of the new n-type companies seeking to disrupt mainstream cell technology in the next 12-18 months, and all the leading equipment and materials suppliers that are key to cost-reduction and efficiency-gains.

PV CellTech has now become the PV Technology Roadmap of the industry, and for the exclusive attendees, offers market insights and networking that drives much of the leading company strategies going forward. The event was sold-out during 2018, so book a place early to ensure participation.

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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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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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