Increased production of cast-mono wafers and modules is likely to emerge as one of the most important trends in c-Si manufacturing during 2012.
Cast-mono technology enables hybrid mono/multi-crystalline ingots to be grown in high productivity conventional multi-crystalline DS (directional solidification) furnaces with potentially lower costs than standard (Cz-grown) mono ingots. The technology offers the promise of improving average cell efficiencies at minimal incremental cost.
Even so, the recent flurry of cast-mono product announcements provides limited visibility on actual shipments to date and begs the question: Is this new technology really a ‘game-changer’ or just marketing-driven propaganda?
At the recent PV Expo trade show held in Japan, Solarbuzz surveyed equipment/materials companies and wafer/module makers to find out their opinions. Here are just a few of the responses that suggest a wide range of opinions on the topic:
- A leading wire saw maker indicated, “We are seeing lots of interest from our customer base. Some challenges for sawing remain, especially for mixed mono/multi bricks yield, throughput, breakage, etc.”
- A Tier 1 wafer maker said, “We have no intention to mass produce. Of course we need to increase efficiency, but do not think cast-mono gives us a competitive advantage.”
- A Tier 1 vertically-integrated module maker suggested, “The wide range of efficiencies is the biggest problem with cast-mono. We are generally positive about cast-mono, but don’t really know how successful it will be in the long run.”
- Another Tier 1 vertically-integrated module manufacturer said, “We are currently producing cast-mono wafers in-house as well as buying from wafer makers. We are very bullish on cast-mono and our production will be greater than 50% by 2015.”
Analyzing the full results of the survey, in conjunction with wafer capacity and production forecasts, Solarbuzz is currently expecting that cast-mono produced-wafers will account for 2.4 GW in 2012 and may grow to more than 25% of all wafer production by 2016. Detailed responses to the survey – including full analysis of the benefits and challenges of the technology and a forecast for production by year – can be found in our newest report.
We are cautiously optimistic about the cast-mono opportunity. There are clearly technical, cost and market challenges that need to be overcome for cast-mono to gain wide acceptance. And it is important to note that – at this point – the push is almost exclusively supply-side driven.
How enthusiastic the end market is about cast-mono is yet to be determined. Even so, any technology that has the potential to simultaneously increase efficiency and lower costs is of great interest to the PV industry.