Reaching a Conversion Rate of Over 23%: When Will High-Efficiency Cells Become Widely Adopted?

published: 2019-05-10 14:17 | editor: | category: Analysis

Several solar projects that are under China’s Top Runner Program officially commenced construction on 4 March 2019. Located in Shanxi Province, these Top Runner projects belong to the advanced technology category of the program (aka the Technology Top Runner Program). On the whole, the total generation capacity of the entire Technology Top Runner Base in Shanxi is set at 5,000MW. As the latest series of Top Runner projects enter the installation phase, PV manufacturers are also paying close attention to the technology offerings of the bid winners. Generally, Technology Top Runner Bases share the following attributes:

[1] All Technology bases exclusively deploy mono-Si modules and primarily adopt PERC cells.

[2] N-type cells account for one-third of the cells used in Technology bases, and the cell efficiency across related projects is above 23% on average.

[3] Bifacial modules have become mainstream in Technology bases, and the module efficiency across related projects is above 20% on average.

Table 1: Statuses of Major Technology Top Runner Bases in China

Location

No.

Bid Winner

Technologies in Modules

Cell Eff.

Module Eff.

Shangrao

(Jiangxi)

1

JA Solar, Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group

Mono-Si + P-type + PERC + half-cut

23.08%

20.40%

2

Jinko Solar, Jinko Power Technology

Mono-Si + P-type + PERC + contact passivation + SPE + half-cut + micro-concentrator

23%

20.50%

Changzhi

(Shanxi)

1

LONGi, United Photovoltaics

 

Mono-Si + P-type + shingling + bifacial

23.85%

20.66%

2

Trina Solar, China Development Bank Energy

Mono-Si, N-type + PERC + MBB + bifacial

23.70%

20.67%

Tongchuan

(Shaanxi)

1

LONGi, China Three Gorges New Energy

Mono-Si + P-type + shingling + bifacial

Front 23.85%

Combined 81%

Front 20.66%

2

Trina Solar, Xinye Green Energy

Mono-Si + N-type + PERC + MBB + bifacial

Front 23.7%

Combined 83%

Front 20.67%

Source: EnergyTrend

P-type vs. N-type: Which cell technology prevail?

Technological advances in design and production of c-Si cells in China have accelerated dramatically since the Chinese government issued the Standard Conditions for PV Manufacturing Industry and launched the Top Runner Program. Data from China PV Industry Association (CPIA) reveal that manufacturers reached an average conversion efficiency of 21.8% for their mass-produced P-type mono-Si PERC cells in 2018. This was an increase of 0.5% percentage point from the average rate attained in 2017. The average conversion efficiency of N-type mono-Si PERT cells also rose to 21.5% in 2018.

Jinko Solar, one of the leading integrated manufacturers, has achieved the highest efficiency rate of around 24% for both P- and N-type cells in its laboratory testing. Likewise, the latest series of module products launched by Trina Solar have also surpassed the output threshold of 400W. These examples indicate that the conversion efficiency of solar products in general are on the verge of rising above the 20% line.

Table 2: Efficiency Rates Achieved by Jinko Solar in Its Cell Roadmap

Cell Type

Technology Combination

Highest Efficiency Rate

P-Type

PERC + SE

23.95%

N-Type

HOT + TOPCon + Half-Cut

24.20

Source: EnergyTrend

The technology combination of mono-Si plus PERC is expected to capture a total market share of more than 50% in 2019, according to the latest edition of Market of Advanced PV Technology Report from EnergyTrend, a division of TrendForce. Following the maturation of the PERC process, manufacturers are going to primarily focus on SE as the next efficiency-boosting technology for cells. EnergyTrend forecasts steady market growth for SE up to 2020. By that time, the technology is also projected to account for over half of the market for PERC cells.

Table 3: SE Equipment Providers and Current Statuses of Their Clients

Equipment

Providers

Processing

Method

Cell

Supplier

Cell Prod.

Capacity (GW)

Applicable

Product

PERC Prod.

Capacity (GW)

SE Prod.

Output (GW)

DR Laser

Laser

Doping

TW Solar

13

PERC

13

6.8

Aiko

10

PERC

10

6.4

JA Solar

8.5

PERC

6.2

4.4

Trina Solar

8.2

PERC

3.6

2

Jinko Solar

6.5

PERC

6.5

5.8

LONGi

6.5

PERC

7.2

6

CSI

7

PERC

3.6

2.5

Risen

6.5

PERC

6.5

5.5

PX Energy

4

PERC

4

3.2

DMEGC

2.5

PERC

2.5

2

SF PV

3

PERC

1.5

1

DZS

1.6

PERC

1.6

1

EGing

1.5

PERC

1

0.4

TSEMC

Laser

Doping

Gintech

2.3

PERC

1

0.2

NSP

1.5

PERC

1

0.2

E-TON

0.6

PERC

1

0.2

TSEC

1.2

PERC

0.8

0.2

Schmid

Wax +

Etching

Back

Trina Solar

5.6

Conventional

mono-/multi-Si,

PERC

2.5

1.2

SAS

1

PERC

1

1

MHE

1

PERC

0.6

0.4

Solartech

0.7

PERC

0.4

0.2

InnoLas

Laser

Doping

Hanwha Q Cells

8.1

PERC

5.1

1.5

NSP

1.5

PERC

1

0.1

Total

 

 

 

 

77.34

50.9

Source: EnergyTrend

Regarding the competition between N- and P-type cells, the overall production capacity of the former has increased. However, the market share ratio between the two has been relatively constant. Compared with the N-type cells, the P-type cells have seen a much significant expansion in production capacity during the recent two years because technological advances have greatly improved their performance. This trend in turn has constrained the capacity growth for N-type cells.

Bifacial N-type PERT cells and HJT cells are now at the volume production stage of their development. EnergyTrend’s latest analysis of the top five suppliers of N-type cells worldwide has yielded the following observations:

[1] In China, the localization of the supply chain for the N-type technology has yet to become widespread. Just one among the top five is a Chinese company.

[2] Only three among the top five are able to surpass 1GW in production capacity. There is still a lot of room for technical improvements in the suppliers’ production processes.

[3] LGE is expected to top the global ranking of N-type cell suppliers by production capacity for 2019. The main reason why LGE is able to pull ahead of its competitors is its strategy of technological diversification. While LGE continues to engage in small-scale capacity expansions, it avoids creating excess capacity for any product category. The company can thus offer a broad range of product lines while limiting production quantities. The latest survey of LGE’s N-type offerings indicates that the company maintains around 400MW, 600MW, and 600MW of production capacity for HJT, N-PERT, and IBC cells, respectively.

Figure 1: Distribution of Total Production Capacity for N-Type Cells by Manufacturers, 2019 (E)

Source: EnergyTrend

EnergTrend’s research furthermore finds that technological potential and market acceptance are the two major factors that will be driving the future development of N-type cells. Currently, P-type products are generally preferred over N-type products of the same specifications because the overall production cost of the latter is still too high.

On the other hand, the adoption of N-type cells can substantially raise the conversion efficiency of whole PV systems. N-type cells also have another key theoretical advantage – low susceptibility to LID (if not completely immune to such problem). Since the volume production of N-type products by manufacturers has been fairly limited, there is still insufficient data supporting this claim. In order to show that N-type cells have this powerful competitive edge over P-type cells, the suppliers of these products will have to scale up their capacity and draw evidence from the wider deployment of the technology.

Figure 2: Share of N-Type Cells in Total Cell Production Capacity, 2016-2019

Source: EnergyTrend

(The content of this article is provided by EnergyTrend. Photograph: Pixabay.)

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