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Will the China-EU Agreement Boost Demand for High Efficiency PV Products?

At the recent 2013 NPD Solarbuzz regional PV conferences held in Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei during July, the PV technology roadmap was one of the key focus areas for various presentations and panel discussions.

Questions included: How soon can thin-film players reach their efficiency targets? Which high efficiency cell type is going to become the mainstream; PERC, MWT, or HIT? Will multi-crystalline silicon wafer-based technology maintain its leading position? Answers to these questions are expected to shape the future technology mix in the PV market.

At the conferences in Shanghai and Taipei, TSMC Solar presented new CIGS progress and revealed an updated efficiency roadmap for CIGS products. Best performing modules are expected to reach 17% efficiency by the end of 2014, which would appear to be a very competitive level. Future capacity expansion of TSMC Solar and other CIGS or CdTe rivals will ultimately determine the market share held by all thin-film PV products.

JA Solar and Canadian Solar discussed new R&D and mass production updates for their PERC and MWT products, respectively. With commercial tool solutions readily available in the market now, these technologies should enable power premium over standard c-Si cells and modules. Bifacial cells and modules based on n-type wafers were also an interesting high efficiency product type mentioned frequently during the conferences.

The development of high efficiency multi c-Si wafers has been one of the key drivers to increasing PV module power ratings since 2012. How high multi c-Si wafer-based technologies can go, beyond current levels, will largely determine the overall trend of mono vs. multi within the dominant c-Si based PV industry. At the conferences, Dr. Lan from the National Taiwan University reviewed high efficiency multi c-Si ingot technology, while Jinko Solar presented 18.5% multi c-Si cell efficiency targets by the end of 2014.

However, global trade disputes are now impacting the PV technology landscape. The recent minimum (or floor) price commitment agreement between the European Commission and China may ultimately impact the PV technology mix within the European end-markets. If buyers in Europe are forced to pay above minimum pricing levels, then high efficiency modules may become more attractive because they offer further advantages such as lower BOS (balance-of-system) costs and are suitable for space constrained applications. This may turn out to be an unexpected outcome of the EU/China trade case as it unfolds during the next few years.