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Moving Forward with a Focus On R&D: Exclusive interview with Heraeus

published: 2016-11-03 10:33

As the solar industry develops, competition is intensifying. Industry insiders are focused on costs and conversion efficiency. Yet the key to success lies in deploying industry-leading technology that is both high quality and reasonably priced.

Heraeus Photovoltaics Global Business Unit (“Heraeus”) focuses on maintaining close relations with its international clients. As one of the top four solar conductive paste providers globally, Heraeus has rich resources that it can deploy. It can provide first-rate solutions to a diverse group of clients which cover funding, technology and key materials.

Mr. Andreas Liebheit, president of Heraeus Photovoltaics’s Global Business Unit.

High-efficiency technology maintains market position

2016 is the year when PERC technology enters the mainstream market and Heraeus has prepared for it.

Taiwan is a major place for the global solar industry and a main production base for PERC cells. To strengthen relations with its local clients in Taiwan, Heraeus established an R&D center in Taiwan in October 2015 with a team of approximately 20 R&D, Application Engineer, sales and marketing professionals. The team at the Taiwan R&D center is also Heraeus’s second multi-functional team, showing Heraeus’s engagement to the Taiwanese market. Furthermore in 2015 the company also installed local production capacity.

During an interview with EnergyTrend, Mr. Andreas Liebheit, president of Heraeus Photovoltaics’s Global Business Unit, pointed out that PERC paste clients are highly picky, so it was necessary to establish a local team in Taiwan.

“Heraeus offers Taiwanese clients pastes customized for their needs by the R&D team in Taiwan,” noted Liebheit.

As Heraeus’s Taiwan R&D team is celebrating its one-year anniversary, Liebheit mentioned his opinions on the Taiwan solar industry.

“Taiwanese companies are too conservative in terms of investing in R&D,” said Liebheit.

He encouraged Taiwanese solar companies to better utilize excellent local human capital and focus on developing more advanced, differentiated technology to strengthen their competitive advantages. Heraeus will continuously encourage their Taiwanese clients to do R&D and provide as much technical support as their clients need.

Heraeus is currently Taiwan’s No. 2 solar paste provider. In addition to continuously seeking further cooperation with Taiwanese clients, it will also protect its own rights and use patent lawsuits as necessary to maintain a healthy industry environment. In the view of Liebheit, Heraeus will be able to gradually boost its market share and grow together with Taiwanese vendors.

Conductive paste solution "SOL9641A" designed for PERC cells introduced to Taiwan on PV Taiwan 2016 fair.

Cost control that does not compromise quality

All manufacturers and clients in the solar industry care about high efficiency and low costs. Industry leaders are those who offer fair prices but better power efficiency, given high competition in the solar sector.

 “Heraeus focuses on customized solutions for our customers, high quality, and R&D,” said Liebheit. “We also do value cost control. Controlling costs allows Heraeus to offer a high-quality product to our customers at a reasonable price.”

Four factors are essential to Heraeus’s ability to offer high-quality products at a reasonable price. First, Heraeus enjoys economies of scale, for which production of solar paste is particularly important. Second, Heraeus benefits from vertical integration of the whole group. For instance, the glass material added into the solar paste is manufactured by Heraeus. This glass is not only high quality but is also a better price than a similar product purchased from an outside vendor. Third, Heraeus focuses on close interactions with its clients to better understand their market needs and provide the best solutions.

The final key factor is the complete technology roadmap made possible by Heraeus’s devotion to R&D. Solar technology involves in two aspects. One is the upgrade of existing technology, such as PERC paste that offers better print quality. The second one is new technology, such as low-temperature silver paste for HJT solar cells, which starts attracting more attentions this year. Heraeus is familiar with this technology and the market. It has been gradually introducing pastes for PERC cells in different markets, and already has a low-temperature silver paste for HJT cells in its product pipeline and is currently planning the production schedule.  

Liebheitstressed: “We are not followers; we are the pioneer.” He added: “Heraeus has leading technology and a strong understanding of market trends. We react to changes in the market swiftly and provide the best solutions. Far-reaching and comprehensive technical support is our most compelling attribute.”

 The market pioneer plans to launch integrated energy service

At the beginning of 2016, there was a shortage of silver powder due to an industrial accident took place in Japan. To meet this challenge, Heraeus launched its multiple-supplier strategy, said Liebheit. That strategy succeeded because “on the one hand our client was able to get a stable supply of materials and was not confined to a single upstream supplier; additionally, our suppliers are very competitive; they are trying to offer better products at better prices than their counterparts.”

In Liebheit’s view, supply will exceed demand in the solar market next year, causing prices to fall. Meanwhile, he believed that high efficiency products will be more acceptable to solar buyers. Heraeus has reached a 50% market share in the Asia high-efficiency solar cell market, which shows the market’s recognition of the competitive strengths of its high-efficiency solutions. Heraeus will continue offering high-efficiency solutions depending on its clients’ need, stated Liebheit.

In his discussion with EnergyTrend, Liebheit also revealed the future direction of Heraeus. The company plans to launch integrated energy solutions in the future that will combine power generation, energy storage, electric vehicles and the power grid.

“This may not directly affect the solar paste business, but we believe it is the future,” he said.

(Interviewed and reported by Rhea Tsao; translated by a contracted translator of TrendForce Corp.)

(Photo Credit: Heraeus)

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