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Technological Iteration of PV Cells: P-type Era will End, while N-type Era is Just Beginning

published: 2023-08-18 17:40

The momentum of PV new installations continues to surge, and the PV cell market landscape is steadily being reshaped by the ascendance of higher-efficiency N-type cells, gradually displacing P-type cells. On July 19th, the NEA released the electric power industry statistics for the period spanning January to June. These figures underscore a substantial surge, with PV new installations reaching an impressive 78.42GW, representing a remarkable year-on-year growth of 153.95%. The trend persisted through June, as new PV installations for that month amounted to 17.21GW, marking a noteworthy year-on-year increase of 140%. We anticipate this upward trajectory to persist in the second half of the year, potentially even surpassing the figures recorded in the first half. The PV industry chain’s upstream fluctuations have stabilized, leading to a rebound in polysilicon prices and gradual inventory depletion, which in turn has boosted operational rates. As a result, module scheduling production is poised to escalate on a monthly basis throughout the third quarter. Furthermore, the fourth quarter is expected to witness an explosive surge in PV installed capacity demand, potentially culminating in an annual PV installed capacity exceeding 170GW in 2023.

Several factors have fueled the notable growth rate of installed capacity from January to June. Initially, module prices experienced a decline at the start of the year, prompting immediate commencement of domestic projects once the ROI criteria were met. This dynamic significantly contributed to the surge in installed capacity. While P-type PV products, predominantly reliant on PERC technology, still command a substantial market share, the PERC technology is grappling with constraints related to cost reduction and efficiency enhancement. With its commendable conversion efficiency and rapid advancement, N-type PV cells have progressively emerged as the vanguard of a new generation of mainstream technology, poised to supplant P-type cells.
N-type cell preparation technology surpasses that of P-type cells, offering a multitude of preparation methods that result in a greater diversity of products. The primary distinction between the production processes for P-type and N-type cells lies in the composition of the wafers. P-type wafers utilize boron in the polysilicon, whereas N-type wafers incorporate phosphorus, endowing them with additional free electrons.

Regarding the technological aspects, P-type cells primarily encompass conventional techniques like aluminum back surface field (BSF) and passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC). On the other hand, N-type cells embrace a range of preparation methods, including tunnel oxide passivated contact cells (TOPCon), intrinsic thin-film heterojunction (HJT) cells, back-electrode contact cells (XBC), as well as variations like interdigitated back contact (IBC), advanced back contact (ABC), and high-performance back contact (HPBC) cells. Among these, TOPCon and HJT cells have gained prominence due to their well-established preparation methodologies. Meanwhile, XBC cells offer an added aesthetic appeal, rendering them particularly suited for domestic applications and distributed markets such as Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).

The superiority of N-type cell technology becomes evident through its elevated conversion efficiency, which gradually erodes the monopoly previously held by P-type cells in the market. China’s PV cell manufacturing technology has been experiencing a rapid acceleration in recent years, witnessing an annual uptick in commercialized product efficiency ranging from 0.3% to 0.4%. According to China’s PV industry sources, the large-scale production of P-type monocrystalline cells heavily relies on PERC technology, achieving an average conversion efficiency of 23.2% in 2022. This figure has approached the theoretical conversion efficiency ceiling of 24.5% for monocrystalline PERC cells. Simultaneously, the advantage of higher conversion efficiency in N-type cells is accentuated. N-type cells exhibit enhanced electrical conductivity and a greater tolerance for metal impurities such as copper and iron. Additionally, their minority carrier lifetimes surpass those of P-type cells, and they are free from the light-induced degradation associated with the boron-oxygen complex. Consequently, N-type cells tout a superior conversion efficiency. By the year 2022, the average conversion efficiency for N-type TOPCon cells is projected to reach 24.5%, HJT cells to achieve 24.6%, and XBC cells to attain 24.5%.
Centering around TOPCon cell technology, the cell industry has embarked on a fresh wave of technological expansion. Among the N-type cell technologies, HJT and TOPCon stand out due to their swift industrialization processes. By the close of 2022, the production capacity for TOPCon and HJT modules had reached significant levels, hitting 81GW and 13GW, respectively, signifying large-scale production capability. Furthermore, shipments of TOPCon and HJT modules reached approximately 16GW and 3GW, with an additional 1GW of XBC shipments. In the year 2022 alone, the total shipments for N-type cells totaled around 20GW, contributing to an overall N-type module shipment share of about 7%.

As of February 2023, the planned capacity for high-efficiency cell technology has surpassed the remarkable threshold of 1,100GW. Remarkably, more than 850GW of this new capacity has embraced TOPCon technology, establishing it as the most prominent and rapidly advancing N-type cell technology. Our projections indicate that large-scale production of N-type cells will become a reality in 2023, with ancillary integrated technologies such as materials, equipment, and processes also undergoing further development and enhancement to align with the progress of N-type PV technology. As the scale of mono N-type wafer production expands and technological strides continue, the cost differential between the two cell types will gradually narrow. Consequently, N-type PV products are poised to swiftly capture a larger share of the market. Overall, our expectations point toward an explosive surge in demand for N-type PV products, with shipments poised for significant growth in 2024.

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