With the center of the global PV industry and market having shifted to Asia in recent years, the share of Germany, which used to be a PV industry bastion, has plunged to less than 2% in terms of PV installations in 2017. However, the country still remains at the forefront of PV R&D, as evidenced by the solid technological strength of Heraeus Photovoltaics.
To better serve customers in Taiwan, the world's second-largest PV-cell production base, Heraeus established an R&D and production division on the island in Nov. 2015. This year, its Taiwan operation has reached another milestone, celebrating the attainment of 100 tons for its silver-paste produced from Taiwan, during PV Taiwan 2017. The volume is sufficient for producing PV cells that are capable of meeting 20% of Taipei's annual electricity need.
Andreas Liebheit, president of the company's Global Business Unit, who has been monitoring the Taiwanese market closely, remarks that the recent merger of three Taiwanese PV cell manufacturers is good. He is upbeat on the outlook of Taiwan's PV industry, citing its solid industrial base and government support, and believes that Taiwan’s highly cooperative nature is what separates it from Germany. He also urges local firms to invest in next-generation N-type technology, such as HJT.
Extensive and profound portfolio
Heraeus's silver-paste business has been growing by leaps and bounds since 2014, attaining ever higher market share, according to the study of EnergyTrend. Liebheit reveals that the company's silver-paste shipment grew by 15% over a year earlier in the first nine months this year, with the September shipment even quadrupled year-on-year, thanks to strong market growth and improvement of the company's supply mechanism, which speeds up delivery.
With continuous expansion of its product portfolio, Heraeus has continued to pioneer technological development in this line, such as front-side silver paste SOL9651D, designed for DWS multi-si PV cell, on display in PV Taiwan 2017. Liebheit points out that Heraeus offers paste solutions in slightly different versions with strong adherence capable of raising conversion rate by 0.l%, for application in black-silicon PV cells employing additives, MCCE process, or RIE process, whose surface corrosion is different.
Heraeus has continuously improved the technological performance of its SOL327 series back-side silver paste, for application in PERC, current high-performance mainstream, in order to enhance the latter's conversion rate. With PERC technology going to enter 2.0 stage, average conversion rate of mono-si PERC will top 22% in 2018, according to Liebheit.
Liebheit notes that on top of different target markets, mono-si and multi-si products have their respective merits in cost and efficiency – which are also the focus of the mono- and multi-si rivalry. Although multi-si products are meant for cheaper market, different from high-performance market for mono-si, efficiency of the former has been improved continuously. Liebheit further predicts that mono-si will overtake multi-si in market share in 2018, as its share will expand at an annual clip of 10%, thanks to higher margin and the lower LCOE (levelized cost of electricity), meeting market need.
Global deployment, technology lead
Amid the highly changeful PV industry, Heraeus focuses technologically on improving existing products, strengthening customer service, and expanding portfolio in the short term, while setting sights on such technologies as MWT, HJT, and IBC. It, for instance, plans to roll out ECA (electrically conductive adhesive) solution in 2018, as a substitute for busbar, for application in new technologies IBC and shingled modules, thereby slashing the use of silver powder and cutting cost by up to 15%.
Given sensitivity of Heraeus on market trend and its pioneering innovation over the past years, the aforementioned technologies should possess substantial potential, although there is some suspicion about the substitution of ECA for busbar on the market offered by the paste giant.
"You have to invest continuously in lots of R&D and service resources, in order to maintain your lead in conductive paste sector, which is highly technology- and knowledge-intensive," remarks Liebheit, adding "Heraeus is the only paste supplier worldwide, capable of producing by its own high quality glass, which is critical for conductive pastes."
Heraeus has launched service consultancy this year, helping customers analyze their paste formula and process for formulation of improvement program, thereby boosting the performance of paste and PV cell's conversion rate, a service which has been applied in 10 cases in Taiwan and mainland China, including some other than the company's existing customers. The program, which has scored remarkable performance in three cases, is a method of the company for raising its market share and underscores its aggressiveness and bold deployment in the PV industry.
Given high susceptibility of the PV industry to policy, technology, and market, Liebheit doesn't worry about the uncertainty caused by U.S. section 201, citing outlook for continuous growth in India and Latin America in 2018, as well as expected recovery of the European market.
Liebheit believes that a certain firms are planning to set up a U.S. plant next year, scheduled for mass production in 2019. He notes that Heraeus has always been able to proceed ahead of market changes, -- there is a 2,000-member team, including over 100 PV experts, in the U.S., which can support customers in various aspects, anytime.