Due to the intense competition within the PV industry, PV makers have started to focus on new production technologies/equipment in order to achieve the highest possible efficiency while lowering manufacturing costs. EnergyTrend, a research division of TrendForce, conducted an exclusive interview with Daniel Buchmann, the General Manager of Meyer Burger Taiwan, to talk about the company’s strategies, technology developments and future outlooks.
Meyer Burger (MB), a leading global technology group, offers systems and production equipment in PV solar, optoelectronic, semiconductor and other specialized industries, with its core business focusing on PV solar. According to MB’s financial report of 2013, it recorded CHF 287.7 million in new orders in 2013, up 29% from 2012. Its book-to-bill ratio (incoming orders to net sales) surpassed 1 for the first time since the beginning of the solar market crisis and reached 1.42 in fiscal year 2013 compared to 0.35 in 2012. When being asked about the company’s PV supply chain strategy, Buchmann indicated that Meyer Burger’s strategy is to be the supplier of choice when it comes to partnerships or cooperation with PV manufacturers. MB aims at delivering integrated solutions along the entire solar value chain from the very first to the final process application, which the company calls “IPS” – Integrated Production System instead of “turnkey solution”. Although some players have left the market recently, others have begun to cooperate with one another and became stronger. Buchmann mentioned it only makes sense for cooperation if they build up the possibility to deliver everything out of one hand.
In terms of MB’s marketing strategies, Buchmann explained two key points. The first one is that the company’s largest marketing will be in the emerging markets, such as the Middle East. No major advertisements will be found in Taiwan because the strategy in Taiwan focuses on cooperation developments and customized solutions. MB Taiwan aims to understand its local customers’ directions and needs and it is not simply trying to make a profit. That’s why a big portion of MB Taiwan’s revenue came from after-sale services. The second key marketing point is to provide a clear picture to all customers of MB’s technologies and ensure its customers know what MB’s next steps are. “We have to prove to our customers that we can provide them with the best solution, the best efficiency, the lowest cost ownership, and the best yield. That’s our strategy but there is no fighting among competitors because each competitor delivers an advantage. We just have to make sure we are one step ahead of the market,” said Buchmann. He further pointed out that Taiwan still has the best PERC cell with the highest efficiency because Taiwanese cell makers have the “know-how” and this is a big advantage for Taiwan. He believed Taiwan will continue with cell production but may not increase module production in the short run due to the US’s preliminary determination on the anti-dumping (AD) duty. On the wafer side, it may be beneficial to Chinese manufacturers but the cooperation will be ongoing between Taiwan and China.
Buchmann stated that in addition to its Heterojunction technology (HJT) line, its SmartWire Connection Technology (SWCT) line is also already running. The uniqueness of SmartWire is its compatibility to all crystalline silicon cell technologies: selective emitter, PERC and Heterojunction (HJT) in both p- and n-type silicon cells. Through the use of a wire mesh, cell performance is also less impacted by micro cracks and cell breaks. However, although Buchmann believes that HJT is the future together with SmartWire to achieve significantly increased energy performance yield for solar modules, PERC cells may still be the major cell trend next year or for even longer. In regards to cost per module, Buchmann said this target is very clearly given by the customers. “Generally, customers are sensitive about the costs and that is why our close cooperation with our customers is of such importance. With good collaboration, and working closely to define the processes, we can tell our customers what the exact total cost for the ownership is over the year or two years. We can also show them our technologies - what will benefit them and what will be compatible to their system equipment in terms of upgrading or other technologies/applications,” he added.
The success of PERC cell is the result of very close cooperation between Meyer Burger and its customers. Buchmann pointed out that the biggest challenge for PERC cell development was to follow customers’ requests because customers’ insights into the technology are at least as good as their insights. That’s another reason why MB has such a clear focus on establishing a collaborative long-term relationships with its customers.
Regarding the future outlook within the PV industry, Buchmann is positive about the trend. He stressed that although it started to go downward since the beginning of 3Q12, it will reflect an uptrend from now on. MB will continue to go with the market requirements as the PV industry becomes more dynamic. “In the future, you will see the world is asking for PV energy. So somebody has to produce it. Again, it may not be in Taiwan, but China, Indonesia, Malaysia, or a booming market like Thailand.” Buchmann said. Meyer Burger remains convinced that solar energy will occupy an important share of the global energy mix in the future and that photovoltaics will remain a strong growth market in the long-term. The company will remain focused on photovoltaics and on its continuing technological development. In the meantime , it is also applying it competencies and technologies to other high-tech growth markets.