Chinese to dominate high-end solar market with mono-crystalline development

Source:Reuters-Global Times Published: 2017/9/18 16:23:39

Under a new program, China is pushing the solar industry toward mass market high-performance solar cells so far used mainly in high-tech products like satellites.

Making these cells more affordable will likely further boost a sector that has already disrupted global electricity generation.

It will also put pressure on international solar cell makers, such as Canadian Solar, REC Solar, Sharp and Sunpower, which compete with Chinese leaders including LONGi Green Energy Technology, Trina Solar and JA Solar Holdings.

Under its 2017 "Top Runner Program", China's National Energy Administration plans to add 8-10 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity to its existing 80 GW.

"This shift... could have far-reaching implications for the global solar industry, especially vaulting China into the top ranks of countries pursuing solar R&D," Stanford University said in its 2017 report on the solar industry.

World solar power generation capacity has ballooned to around 300 GW from just 1 GW in 2000, according to International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) data, and that number is set to double again by 2020.

That growth has largely relied on multi-crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells - sometimes called polycrystalline - in which solar units consist of multiple silicon crystalline cells.

These have been cheaper to produce than the more efficient mono-crystalline cells, which are made from single crystalline units.

The price of multi-crystalline cells has dropped to well below 50 cents per watt from $80 in 1980.

But prices are now converging as China scales up production of mono-crystalline cells.

Energy Trend, a consultancy, says the average price of a Chinese high-efficiency, multi-crystalline cell is $0.225 per watt, compared to just $0.319 per watt for high-efficiency, mono-crystalline cells.

"With poly-silicon products, we have seen the [development] ceiling. Now, we are ramping up investment of mono-solar," said Xie Tian, director of quality management at LONGi Green Energy Technology. "Mono-crystalline could take more than 50 percent of the market," he said, up from around one-fifth today.

Analysts say demand for mono-crystalline panels is already strong.

"Many panel makers...can't meet orders. Their bookings are full until next year," said Jason Tsai of Energy Trend.

Mono-crystalline technology is not new, but because of its cost, it was mainly being used in high-tech space products until recently.

But its use is likely to grow as the cost differential narrows, meaning a higher efficiency can be had at a similar price.

Under the "Top Runner Program", payouts known as ''Feed-in-Tariffs'' will favor high-efficiency projects.

"It's much easier to meet the requirements of mono [now], therefore it [the program] is accelerating investment in mono," said Steve O'Neil, CEO of REC Solar, a Singapore-based panel maker owned by Chinese State-owned ChemChina.

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, a leader in solar development, said in July the record laboratory efficiency for mono-crystalline was 26.7 percent per cell, versus 21.9 percent for multi-crystalline.

While China is driving the shift to mono-crystalline, producers globally are adapting. REC Solar, for example, says it is starting to move into mono-crystallines after focusing largely on multi-crystalline cells.


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