Orders for n-type products remain low. Manufacturers are mainly preparing for n-type technology this year, with capacity significantly higher than production. After expanding, mono PERC is now seeing signs of declining profitability. Several manufacturers have revealed that they will stop adding PERC capacity because it is already excess. The projects for the second half of the year are mainly n-type technology roadmaps or high-end technology research. It will take some time for the n-type technology to reach full-scale commercial production.
The progress of the largest manufacturers in 2021 will determine whether the Type n can achieve mass production. The industry is looking at whether Longi’s TOPCon and Tongwei’s 1GW HJT capacity expansion projects will materialize by early 2022, reducing costs. All eyes are also on TOPCon’s rate of return and the selection of equipment for these processes.
Equipment investments for TOPCon fell in 2020 to a level slightly above PERC. Due to equipment compatibility and the ability to increase cell efficiency after switching from PERC to TOPCon, many new production lines from PERC have been assigned to upgrade to TOPCon. If the TOPCon process can help increase the efficiency of existing cells and stabilize the rate of return, the actual capacity and production of TOPCon will exceed HJT. Technically, manufacturers still choose between LPCVD and PECVD, and the issue of the enveloping polysilicon layer remains to be resolved.
The HJT treatment is simpler and has advantages in terms of rate of return and effectiveness. After the introduction of light dipping last year, the overall cell efficiency has increased to over 24%. However, cost reduction remains a bottleneck. With the emergence of Chinese HJT equipment suppliers and their continued optimization, investment for a 1GW HJT cell production line has dropped to CNY 450 million ($ 61 million) / GW. In addition to reducing costs through lower capital expenditure, the adoption of multi-bus bars or smart wire interconnects can increase efficiency and reduce the consumption of silver paste. Meanwhile, R&D on silver pastes continues in the hope of technical advancement with different materials.
The high costs put most manufacturers in a wait-and-see mode. With the exception of Tongwei and HuaSun, most of the capacity expansion projects this year are on a pilot scale. Future development depends on the ability of HJT’s expansion in the second half of the year to reduce cost per watt. Depreciation of equipment brings limited cost reduction, after equipment costs fell from CNY 800 million / 1 GW last year to CNY 450 million / 1 GW this year. Further cost reduction can only depend on the advancement of silver paste technology, as well as economies of scale. In order for the capacity and production of HJT to increase in the long term, HJT must reduce the cost difference with type p.
TOPCon and HJT both see continued progress in cost control and efficiency. Both are expected to see their capacity and production increase over the next three years. However, TOPCon has advantages over HJT in terms of order volume and capacity expansion, as it is easier to upgrade from PERC. As a result, TOPCon will overtake HJT in terms of capacity and production in the short term. If the equipment and silver paste costs can continuously decrease as the production volume increases, HJT will have more room for cost reduction for each high cost material. In addition, as the efficiency of HJT cells continues to improve, its capacity and production will increase in the long term.
TOPCon and HJT face challenges in transitioning large wafers. While 182mm and 210mm will become the mainstream format for the p-type in the second half of the year, this remains a hurdle for the n-type to overcome stability issues using large pads. If n-type cells made with large platelets can go into mass production within the next two years, costs will drop immediately.
Mono PERC is showing signs of decline after large-scale expansion, so it becomes increasingly important to prepare for next-generation technologies. But since it will take time for the n-type to reach commercial production, the realization of capacity expansion plans by large manufacturers, the degree of cost reduction, the efficiency of mass production, as well as the control rate of return, 2021 and 2022 will be a key period for the evaluation of manufacturers.
About the Author
Amy Fang focuses on the research and analysis of the solar cell segment of the supply chain. It supports PV InfoLink in producing market trend analysis and works on price forecasting and production capacity data services. Fang continues to contribute to solar cell technology research efforts, market trend analysis and timely market information.