In 2023, the photovoltaic (PV) industry chain is experiencing a new phase of expansion, driven by the decreasing costs and increasing benefits of N-type cell technology. N-type technology has emerged as a competitive field where both new and established players are vying for market share. The N-type capacity is set to propel the industry into a high-efficiency N-type era. Among the various players, TOPCon wafer has taken the lead in achieving mass production and has entered a period of dividend due to its superior cost performance and a clear pathway to improving efficiency.
Wafer: Large size, thinner, faster N-type process, rectangular wafer being a new trend
Graph: Wafer production capacity share of different sizes from 2022 to 2026
Driven by cost reduction and enhanced benefits, the adoption of larger-sized silicon wafers and thinner wafers is accelerating. EnergyTrend, a renowned energy research center under TrendForce, predicts a rapid increase in the market share of large-size silicon wafers, projected to rise from 83.45% in 2022 to over 96.33% in 2023. The demand for wafers sized at 166mm and below will gradually decline. In addition, integrated module businesses have introduced rectangular silicon wafers of varying sizes to explore the potential for efficiency improvement in modules. The market for rectangular silicon wafers is predominantly controlled by leading component companies, with a diverse range of wafer sizes still prevailing.
N-type wafers hold significant potential for achieving thinner dimensions. In the integrated company such as JinkoSolar, the thickness of TOPCon wafer has successfully reduced to 130μm and 125μm, whereas other companies typically maintain a thickness range of 135μm to 150μm. The majority of HJT wafer measure 130μm in thickness. Some manufacturers have even initiated efforts to produce wafers as thin as 120μm and 110μm. In comparison to PERC wafers, the main N-type wafers is significantly thinner dimensions. Additionally, due to cost reduction measures, the thinning process for N-type wafers will be expedited. It is projected that by 2023, the thickness of most TOPCon and HJT wafers will reach 130μm and 120μm, respectively.
Graph: Thinning Process of Heterojunction and TOPCon (Unit: μm)
In 2022, N-type cells are expected to enter their initial year of mass production. However, due to the absence of significant growth of N-type wafers in downstream demand, silicon wafer companies continue to primarily focus on producing P-type wafers. Currently, N-type wafers hold a market share of approximately 8%, with limited output that lacks the benefits of scale effect. Nevertheless, as the future demand for N-type cells is projected to increase, the market share of N-type wafers is expected to grow further. By 2023, it is anticipated that N-type wafers will account for approximately 25% of the market. Furthermore, the production of N-type wafers necessitates stricter control over carbon, oxygen content, and purity. Due to the purity requirements associated with N-type wafer production, the frequency of replacing quartz crucibles increases. Consequently, a shortage in the supply of high-purity quartz sand may impact the market share of N-type technology in the next two years.
Battery Cell: Large size, Higher market share of N-type vcell, TOPCon Holds Production Advantage
With the continuous advancements in battery technology, the market share of N-type batteries, particularly those produced by TOPCon, HJT, and XBC, is experiencing significant growth. According to data from EnergyTrend, the new energy research center of TrendForce, the total capacity of battery cells is projected to reach approximately 1047GW in 2023, marking a 46.51% year-on-year increase. This capacity expansion is primarily driven by the growing adoption of N-type cells. By the end of 2023, the N-type battery capacity is expected to reach 550GW, accounting for 52.5% of the total capacity. TOPCon stands out with its notable production capacity in the short term, thanks to its economic advantages. Furthermore, as the capacity of PERC wafers continues to expand and the production of N-type cells accelerates, the market share of large-size wafers is poised to further rise. In 2023, large-size wafers are projected to account for approximately 96.05% of the market share.
Graph: Global Trend of Cell Capacity from 2022 to 2027 ( Unit: GW)
The current production capacity of TOPCon is constrained, leading to a tight supply situation
TOPCon holds a significant advantage in expanding N-type cell production capacity, and it is projected to reach a cell capacity of approximately 441GW in 2023, accounting for 80.27% of the market share. However, the presence of new entrants with less advanced technology could potentially impact the overall production capacity. It is anticipated that TOPCon will expedite cell production in the second half of 2023.
Graph: Production Trend of various N-type cells from 2022 to 2027 (Unit: GW)
TrendForce highlights that the supply of high-quality TOPCon cells is constrained, leading to a tight supply. In 2023, the total cell output is projected to reach approximately 528GW, with TOPCon cells accounting for around 123.5GW, representing a relatively low market share of approximately 28%. Currently, the premium of TOPCon cells is approximately 0.1 to 0.2 yuan per watt compared to PERC cells. As costs continue to decrease and efficiency further improves, it is expected that the premium of TOPCon cells over PERC cells will increase. Despite the premium, the cell capacity of TOPCon is anticipated to grow at a rapid pace.
Graph: Trend of cell capacity for various N-type cells from 2022 to 2027 (Unit: GW)
The economics of HJT is highlighted and the industrialization is expected to accelerate
Currently, HJT production faces challenges related to cost per watt and limited mass production, with a capacity of only approximately 17GW. However, the path toward cost reduction and efficiency enhancement for HJT is clear. The introduction of silver-clad copper, 0BB, and double-sided micro-crystalline production techniques is expected to improve its economic viability. By 2023, HJT capacity is projected to reach 60GW, with an output of around 13.1GW. From a capacity expansion perspective, HJT and PERC production lines are largely incompatible. New entrants in the market are increasingly inclined to produce HJT technology, with companies like Hua Sun, Akcome, and Diamond Glass demonstrating faster production. Among integrated companies, Risen Energy is progressing rapidly, and established companies such as Tongwei Group and Longi are expected to establish mass production lines this year.
Modules: Large Size, Higher Power, Double-Glass Modules Hold Significant Advantages, TOPCon Technology Enters a Phase of Promotional Benefits
Currently, the integrated TOPCon modules have reached cost parity with PERC modules and are projected to become even more cost-effective within the year. The economic advantages of TOPCon modules have positioned them as a crucial field for development among integrated module companies. Key players such as JinkoSolar, JA Solar, Trina Solar, and Astronergy have already established TOPCon production capacities. New entrants like Hua Sun, Golden Glass, and Akcome primarily focus on Heterojunction (HJT) technology, while integration companies like Risen Energy predominantly produce HJT modules. Additionally, Csisolar invests in both TOPCon and HJT technologies, while Longi concentrates on High-Power Bi-Facial Cells (HPBC) modules and Aiko emphasizes Advanced Back Contact (ABC) modules.
In terms of module versions and power output, N-type modules N-type modules are various in versions, with large-size and double-glass modules dominating the market. Moreover, the power of N-type modules is trending towards exceeding 700W, suitable for both distributed and ground power station applications. N-type modules are mainly 182-54/72 single and double-glass and 210-60/66 double-glass products. The maximum power of a 182-72 double-glass module is 620W, while a 210-66 TOPCon module can reach up to 720W, and a 210-66 HJT module can achieve a remarkable 732.6W.
Overall, as the PV industry chain promotes cost reduction and efficiency improvements, the N-type era characterized by high efficiency is approaching. In terms of silicon wafers, there is an accelerated focus on producing larger, thinner, and N-type wafers, while rectangular silicon wafers are emerging as a new trend. In the cell segment, larger-sized and N-type cells are gaining greater market share. However, the output of TOPCon cells remains limited, resulting in a tight supply situation. In the module segment, the market share of N-type modules featuring larger size, higher power, and double-glass configuration is increasing. TOPCon technology is currently in a phase of promotional benefits.