TrendForce: How Competitive is the N-Type Cell in the Post-PERC Era?

published: 2021-07-20 16:28 | editor: | category: Analysis

Amid constant iteration in high-efficiency cell technology, domestic businesses have exceeded 23% in the efficiency of mass production at new PERC production lines in 2021, and managed to develop ceilings at an efficiency of almost 24%, which further solidifies the determination of domestic businesses in establishing additional production lines for the N-type cell.

N-type cells that have so far achieved a small-scale mass production (>1GW) include TOPCon, HJT, and IBC. According to the analysis of EnergyTrend, the capacity and market share of N-type cells started to elevate simultaneously since 2021, where the capacity of N-type cells is expected to arrive at 22GW at the end of 2021, while the market share is estimated to surpass 10% in 2023.

Riding the Fence on N-Type Cells Due to Relatively Weak Capacity Scale

Businesses are primarily focused on TOPCon or HJT for the expansion of N-type cells in 2021, and among the businesses that have initiated production for the N-type technology, most of the new HJT businesses are implementing a pilot scale production, while a large segment of TOPCon businesses are integrated. However, the relatively weak capacity scale of N-type cells owing to multiple factors, including large sizing, cost, and yield rate, coupled with the price fluctuations from the PV industry chain amidst the post-pandemic era, have prompted the deployment of N-type cells to remain centralized on businesses equipped with storage technology in 2021, and the market now concentrates on the capacity release of large-sized TOPCon cells and the progress of GW-grade HJT production lines.

First-tier module makers have confirmed the deployment of N-type technology for 2021. In terms of product arrangement, CSI and Trina Solar are planning to sell HJT modules, while Longi and Hanwha are going to sell TOPCon modules. Jinko Solar has already started selling TOPCon module products, whereas Risen Energy plans to release module products that contain the technology of TOPCon and HJT. Pertaining to the establishment of production lines, Risen Energy has commenced the mass production on HJT modules, while CSI will be building a pilot scale production line for HJT, and JA Solar has completed the pilot scale production line for TOPCon before constructing the HJT production line scheduled for the second half of 2021. Jinko Solar has started the mass production for TOPCon modules, whereas the TOPCon cell factory of Longi is expected to go into operation in 2021.

Integrated businesses are focused on TOPCon, while the new capacity for N-type is centralized on HJT projects. The market arrangement for the TOPCon technology is primarily seen from integrated businesses such as Longi, Jinko Solar, and JA Solar right now. Most businesses have preserved space for TOPCon upgrades in their new PERC capacity since 2020. Numerous businesses are engaged in the HJT technology, including professional cell businesses, module makers, equipment integrators, and new businesses. Among them, Risen Energy, Akcome, GS Solar, and Meyer Burger are all planning to establish GW-grade HJT projects.

Stability in Mass Production is Essential as Ceilings Constantly Rise for Efficiency

Judging by the current cell efficiency, Longi has achieved a conversion efficiency of 24.1% within the laboratory, which is almost the theoretical limit of 24.5% for PERC cells. PERC technology has officially entered the post-change cycle with cell businesses gradually shifting to new technology pertaining to the emphasis of R&D, while the industry is accelerating on the approval of pilot and mass production lines for TOPCon, HJT, and IBC, so as to actuate the laboratory efficiency of the N-type cells to over 25%.

 

Differences in Conversion Rate are starting to expand between N-type cell and PERC. According to the latest progress announced by businesses, N-type HJT, TOPCon, and the existing PERC have respectively arrived at 25%, 24.5%, and 23.5% (Tongwei) in terms of the highest mass production conversion efficiency. In addition, an enormous level of investment from businesses was injected into N-type cells, which prompted the imminent mass production of TOPCon cells, and multiple businesses are making smooth progress in the pilot production lines of HJT, before marching towards GW-grade production.

N-type cells are still climbing in the efficiency of mass production, with stability yet to improve further. However, it is evident that N-type HBC and tandem cell technologies are also in the midst of the R&D phase, with further room for improvement in terms of the conversion efficiency.

 

Cost Becomes an Essential Factor for the Simultaneous Advancement of TOPCon and HJT

The cost of wafers and slurry for N-type cells is yet to be optimized. Raw materials and production account for a higher ratio in the cost structure for HJT cells, and the former is largely occupied by wafers and silver paste. HJT consists of 50% a-Si cost, and the reduction of a-Si cost has become an important direction in lowering the cost of HJT. The cost per watt for TOPCon cells comprises of wafer, silver paste, and depreciation, which account for 62.5%, 15.8%, and 3.7% of the respective cost, and the decrement of future cost primarily comes from wafer thinning, consumption of silver paste, and cost reduction in equipment.

Most of the early production lines for N-type cells had adopted overseas equipment that are higher in cost, and an increasing number of fully localized production lines will be seen alongside the constant maturity of local equipment. A fully localized production line appeared from the tender of four 1GW production lines by Tongwei in 2020, and the debugging statistics for the four production lines are expected to be announced in 2021. The localization trend in the production lines and equipment for HJT cells is becoming evident. Regarding the cost of localized equipment, Shenzhen SC aims to achieve a conversion efficiency of 25% for HJT in 2021, and lower the investment for a single GW-grade equipment to RMB 350 million, which may help with the preliminary establishment of a new structure for the market of N-type cell equipment.

As pointed out by the analysis of EnergyTrend, the current yield rate of PERC cells is at more than 98%, and the lack of maturity for TOPCon and HJT cells on major technologies has become the primary constraint to the exiting development of N-type cells, while the trend of large-sized cells also further extends the lifespan of the PERC technology that possesses a higher degree of maturity. The mass production of N-type cells will remain focused on G1 and M6 in 2021, and the industrialization of N-type cells in the future would have to resolve issues, including the higher cost, efficiency and stability of mass production, and the challenges imposed by the yield rate, under the revolution of M10, G12, or wafers of larger sizes.

This article is sourced from the Market of Advanced PV Technology Report by EnergyTrend. Please contact the following windows if you would like to know more about the reports offered by EnergyTrend:

Gino Tang

+ 86-150-1369-8112

Ginotang@trendforce.cn

Grace Li

+886-2-8978-6488 ext.916

Graceli@trendforce.com

 

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