The maturation and scale of the silicon photovoltaic industry have resulted in a decline in attention from corporate and venture funding for solar-related start-ups. Mercom Capital reports a tepid $1.7 billion in corporate funding, a year-on-year drop of 71%, and $174 million in venture funding – a quarter-on-quarter drop of 57%. The drying up of available funding has led to a fairly sparse landscape of solar start-ups with a handful of remaining companies developing innovative technologies in each area of the solar taxonomy. While the quantity of start-ups has decreased as low-cost crystalline silicon panels pour out of China, the potential impact of those that remain could still prove to be as dramatic a disruptor to the solar industry as solar is to the broader power industry. In this light, Lux Research has determined five solar start-ups we spoke with this year that have achieved the most progress: Continue reading
Kerfless wafer developer 1366 Technologies (client registration required) has won a supply agreement of up to 700 MW to Hanwha Q Cells (client registration required) over a five-year period. The wafers use 1366’s proprietary Direct Wafer Solidification (DWS) kerfless process, and will be made in a planned manufacturing facility of 250 MW initial capacity, located in New York and slated to open in 2017. This announcement marks the first milestone towards large-scale commercialization of kerfless silicon-based wafer manufacturing technology, and is backed by a partnership with a major module manufacturer.
The long-term supply contract can serve as an opportunity for 1366 to demonstrate its claimed 54% cost reduction potential of wafer production, to achieve $0.35/wafer (client registration required). Moreover, it will also be a test of the claimed high-performance of these wafers to enable a cell efficiency of 19.1%, as previewed with a recent R&D collaboration between 1366 and Hanwha Q Cells. With the planned 250 MW facility coming online in 2017, this 700 MW supply contract will take up a large part of the 1366 production pipeline for the foreseeable future.
As for Hanwha Q Cells, adopting kerfless wafers can help it differentiate from other manufacturers with a significant cut in manufacturing and overall system cost. Moreover, if the supply contract goes well, Hanwha Q Cells could seek deeper collaboration with 1366 to develop kerfless monocrystalline silicon (c-Si) wafers and the use of kerfless wafers in higher-efficiency cell architectures. These architectures include passivated emitter rear contact (PERC), passivated emitter rear totally diffused (PERT), and heterojunction technology (HJT).
This win bodes well not just for the market readiness for 1366’s DWS technology, but also may pave the way for other kerfless technologies like the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes adopted by companies like NexWafe (client registration required) and Crystal Solar (client registration required) to gain more market traction. The latter has now achieved an efficiency of 22.5% for n-type PERT monocrystalline cells co-developed with the Belgian research institute Imec. However, the total supply of kerfless wafers in the market is extremely limited, as compared with traditionally-manufactured silicon wafers, and ramp-up has been slow.
Meanwhile, the more incremental advance of diamond wire cutting as a replacement for conventional saw and slurry method is likely to gain market share more quickly than kerfless wafering. This trend is driven by the industry acceptance of the sawing approach, which diamond wire fits into (and the cost of diamond wire is expected to fall over time). To compete with this diamond wire approach, kerfless wafer manufacturers must quickly prove their market readiness and manufacturing scalability to outrun the decreasing cost of diamond wire-cut wafers. Until then, clients should track how the supply contract between 1366 and Hanwha Q Cells unfolds, and look out for other partnership opportunities between kerfless technology companies and major module manufacturers.
By: Wenjia Wang
While the carnage of tier-2 and tier-3 solar manufacturers continues in the solar industry as a result of impending industry consolidation, tier-1 companies are planning expansions as their capacity utilization nears 100%. The level of capacity expansions are certainly not the same as they were in 2008, but they do indicate a turn towards positive momentum for the upstream solar industry.
Polysilicon: While the Chinese polysilicon capacity is expected to go down as tier-2 and tier-3 manufacturers are left to go out of business, there are capacity expansions planned outside of China.
- Tokuyama Corporation has established a wholly owned subsidiary, Tokuyama Malaysia, and is currently constructing two production plants with 6,200 tonnes at the first plant, and 13,800 tonnes at the second plant, located in the Samalaju Industrial Park in Sarawak, Malaysia. The first plant came online in September 2013, while the second one will come online in April 2014. Tokuyama has recently invested in an innovative and low-cost kerfless wafer developer 1366 Technologies (client registration required) that is planning to expand its own capacity to 250 MW.
- Wacker is also continuing with expansion of its Tennessee plant in the U.S. with 15,000 MT/year new capacity to be completed by mid-2015. Wacker is one non-Chinese polysilicon company that is free of any polysilicon trade tariffs by the Chinese government, giving it an edge over Hemlock, REC, and MEMC.
- There are also two polysilicon plants under construction in Saudi Arabia funded by Al-Rajhi Capital, with a total capacity of 16,000 MT, that are to come online by Q4 2014.
- Qatar Science and Technologies (QSTec) is also building a 10,000 MT polysilicon plant with plans to come online by Q1 2015.
Wafers and ingots:
- Comtec (client registration required) announced earlier this year that it is expanding its n-type ingot and wafer capacity (client registration required) and building a 1 GW ingot and wafer manufacturing facility in Malaysia, given that the company expects increasing demand of n-type wafers from its current customers, SunPower and Panasonic. Malaysia’s Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said that Tokuyama will provide Comtec with polysilicon for ingot and wafer production from Tokuyama’s Malaysian polysilicon plant. Comtec’s facility is scheduled to come online in Q1 2014.
Cells and modules:
- SunPower (client registration required) announced last month that it will expand its cell and module manufacturing capacity by 25% as it runs its existing plants at full utilization to meet surging demand. The company will build a factory in the Philippines that will be able to produce 350 MW of cells a year and is expected to go into production in 2015. This expansion will bring total annual cell capacity for SunPower to 1.8 GW.
- Earlier this year, Yingli’s (client registration required) CEO also announced that the company is targeting to have 6.5 GW of module manufacturing by 2015, given it is running at near full capacity in 2013 and expecting local demand growth. However, the company will have to resolve its debt issues before expanding.
- Nexolon America, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korean Nexolon (client registration required), has also broken ground on a 200 MW cell and module manufacturing facility in San Antonio, TX with the first 100 MW to be completed by spring of 2014 and the second by Q2 2015.
- TS Solartech (client registration required) that has existing cell manufacturing capacity of 70 MW has plans to expand to 560 MW by 2017, as the company currently has 100% capacity utilization.
- Motech also announced that it plans to expand its PV module production capacity in Q4 2013 and cell capacity in 2014. The details of the expansions were not disclosed. The company currently has 1.6 GW of cell and 92 MW of module capacity.
- Within thin-films, Heliovolt (client registration required) that received $19 million in Q3 2013 by the South Korean conglomerate SK Group, is planning to expand capacity from 25 MW today to 100 MW in 2014.
These capacity expansions are a good impetus for chemicals and materials companies to target solar manufacturers that are planning capacity expansions for strategic supply agreements to enable revenue generation after a slow two years. Moreover, these expansions also indicate that there will be solar manufacturing activity outside of China specifically in Malaysia, the Philippines, and the U.S., which should be considered as corporations lay out their business development plans for 2014.