First Solar’s TetraSun technology-based production line is up and running at its PV manufacturering complex in Kulim High Tech Park, Malaysia, according to local reports.
Small start-up, TetraSun was acquired by First Solar in April 2013, with the intention of taking its copper-based metallisation process on N-type monocrystalline wafers into volume production, primarily to target the residential rooftop market, initially in Japan. TetraSun had claimed to have developed a novel surface passivation technology and used 40 micron wide copper electrodes instead of screen-printed silver metallization that significantly reduced material costs, while providing cell efficiencies above 20%, without the need to use more complex cell architectures.
Based on ongoing discussions with TetraSun’s former majority shareholder, JX Nippon Oil & Energy, First Solar had previously indicated that the 100MW line would initially distribute the technology in Japan and timelines for the start of production of the TetraSun technology would seem to have been on schedule.
Over the last 12-months, increased focus on N-type monocrystalline technology has taken place because of the following reason – multicrystalline technology is claimed to be reaching its natural peak efficiencies, despite the increase in wafer quality and start of migration to PERC (passivated emitter rear cell) processing, and the lack of low-cost N-type monocrystalline wafers has also been a factor in the technology remaining a niche amongst high-end PV cell producers such as SunPower and Panasonic.
However, the ramp by Mission Solar and plans by SolarCity as well as Canadian Solar to further adopt the technology suggest momentum is building to provide a long-term platform for high efficiency cells well beyond 20% conversion rates at increasingly better cost comparisons to multicrystalline wafer-based high efficiency technologies.
Monocrystalline wafer producers have been focused on a range of production cost reductions in recent years that are intended to close the cost gap and enable increased production scale to also drive down production costs. Employing ultra-thin mono-wafers would also drive down material costs, a program long-standing at SunPower and expected to be a key aspect in the launch of its Gen 3 ‘Maxeon’ solar cell later this year.