Earlier this year, following the announcement from the US regarding production based incentives for domestic solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing – through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – I wrote two articles on our PV Tech portal that outlined the opportunity for the US to wrest manufacturing leadership in solar PV from China; and why it is essential to prioritize cell manufacturing over all other segments of the silicon value-chain.
This article follows directly on from these two pieces, specifically on the theme of US silicon-based solar PV manufacturing, and how this could come to fruition if the right stakeholders are involved.
Unlock unlimited access for 12 whole months of distinctive global analysis
Photovoltaics International is now included.
- Regular insight and analysis of the industry’s biggest developments
- In-depth interviews with the industry’s leading figures
- Unlimited digital access to the PV Tech Power journal catalogue
- Unlimited digital access to the Photovoltaics International journal catalogue
- Access to more than 1,000 technical papers
- Discounts on Solar Media’s portfolio of events, in-person and virtual
Or continue reading this article for free
The narrative discusses a different approach that could be pursued to reach the ultimate goal for the US (or as part of a Western alliance) to achieve PV manufacturing leadership and remove its current overdependence on China.
In the following sections, I suggest that prioritizing the solar cell is simply an essential starting point, but no more than that. And – if new capacity planning is left in the hands of a range of domestic and overseas stakeholders – investments here could end up creating a fragmented and discrete manufacturing landscape across different states in the US.
One that ultimately may not establish the necessary momentum to drive the magnitude of capital expenditure (capex) and research-and-development (R&D) spending needed to create and sustain technology leadership (or foster the type of ecosystem that motivates the required equipment and materials supply-chains).
To address these potential shortcomings, I propose a somewhat radical approach; one that involves decoupling the key cell manufacturing capacity build-up in the US from the actions (investments and technology decisions) of a diverse group of actors that ultimately lacks the synergy and national focus necessary for long-term growth.
Rather, the platform I suggest draws on themes that evolved mainly in the semiconductor space over the past 40 years, but adapting two pivotal concepts that could allow the vital infrastructure to be created in the US (or as part of a coordinated Western approach).
Specifically, the model I propose puts a newly-created, equipment-supplier-led PV consortium (aligned with overall government policy from an arms-length perspective) in the driving seat, ambitiously financed and incentivised to fast-track the creation of a US-based 100GW solar cell foundry within which a manufacturing-focused R&D team is created that sets a defined technology roadmap for the industry as a whole; and at the same time, solving a host of problems currently impacting the entire solar industry today, most notably the problems facing institutional investors having to audit complicated Asian-rooted PV module bill-of-materials (BOM).
I start from the basis of the US having decided that being in control of making solar-related components domestically has been designated a national (energy/security) priority (see the first article in this series here); and that manufacturing of silicon solar cells (as opposed to wafers or modules for example) has been prioritized as the key part of the silicon-based value-chain (see the second article here).
Furthermore, I touch on ways in which one of the major recommendations of the proposal (namely the necessity to utilize the best-of-US talent) could allow for the single most significant US PV manufacturer until now (First Solar) being one of the chosen drivers within the newly created consortium.
The underlying themes and discussion that follows frames the basis of the content set to be covered at PV Tech’s forthcoming US solar manufacturing conference, PV CellTech USA 2023, taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area, on 3-4 October 2023.
Relying on the existing set of expansion announcements is risky
At the time of writing, the solar PV industry is evaluating how important it will be to make silicon-based solar cells in the US: as opposed to buying cells from somewhere in Southeast Asia (almost certainly under Chinese ownership) and assembling these in a factory in the US to sell modules to downstream channels domestically.
It is great this conversation is happening: recognizing that fabricating cells – not simply assembling modules – is an essential first step. It allows technology to be prioritized, and ultimately could be the catalyst for subsequent (upstream) ingot, wafer and polysilicon production in the US.
But even if 20-30 companies succeed in ramping up new silicon-based cell lines in the US over the next three to five years, it may not have a major impact; or certainly not at the level and scale that is needed to drive real long-term change.
Rather, what could unfold is a scattering of relatively small (GW-scale) cell lines using a somewhat diverse collection of equipment and materials suppliers from different parts of the globe (including a fair amount of tooling shipped over from China); and with investments (and site ownership) again fragmented and probably more weighted to overseas entities headquartered across Asia and Europe.
So, let’s imagine in about four years, there are 30 such GW-scale cell fabs in the US (some less than 1GW, some more). But in reality, adding up to somewhere in the range of 30GW of nameplate capacity. Maybe 20GW of TOPCon; 10GW of heterojunction. It is not that important what the split in technology is.
Taken in isolation, many would say this represents success. Thirty new cell fabs across a handful of states delighted to have secured inward investments. Political points would likely be counted before any solar cells were made (or indeed before factories start to get built).
Compared to today – where there is no silicon-based cell production undertaken in the US – it would be a step forward for sure. But as a means of establishing technology leadership in the US with the active participation of certain key US stakeholders; likely not.
Nor is this fragmented and disjointed approach ideal for strategic long-term investments to be made, in particular for technology, R&D and capex. In isolation, none of the individual spending plans represents sufficient incentive for the key companies needed (for example Applied Materials) to align their corporate R&D focus with the PV industry; something I explain below is probably imperative, and may only happen via some kind of larger-scale coordinated activity.
Of course, the initial build outs (stimulated by the IRA) are yet to happen and as such how this will look is simply conjecture for now. But looking at all the activity today for new cell capacity planning in the US (following the announcement of the IRA and plans unfolding from various actors in the space), I would have to conclude that this fragmented scenario does represent the most-likely landscape for US silicon-based cell manufacturing in the short-term.
Even if the reality is slightly different from above, one may still conclude that it is too high a risk to hope that individual companies (some US based, some overseas), with different levels of expertise (some having never made a solar cell before), are going to somehow coalesce to create a domestic engine of power for US silicon-based manufacturing.
Ironically, such a fragmented silicon-based landscape would be the polar opposite of what the US has in place today, courtesy of the only PV manufacturer globally that does not rely on Chinese silicon-based materials or production equipment; First Solar.
I return to this theme later on and explain why First Solar may need to be part of the silicon-based solution (or broader US solar manufacturing as a whole), and not simply having a non-silicon based technology (thin-film) that runs in parallel and with few, if any, concurrent long-term manufacturing objectives.
The best of US manufacturing needs motivated to engage
As discussed above, it is probably rather idealistic to think that individual companies within the current stakeholder landscape – left to their own devices – can collectively be the answer to such a complex challenge of decoupling from Chinese supply-chain overdependence.
The pragmatic real-world approach, I think, is simply to choose your most likely commercial custodians and enable them to own the solution. Put all efforts on the most likely winning set of manufacturing stakeholders in the country (and from overseas on a restricted basis, as I discuss shortly). The companies that – without their involvement – would make it very difficult for the US to reach its stated end goals.
For those with a background in semiconductor, this is probably starting to sound very much like the non-profit consortium, Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SEMATECH), that was created almost 40 years ago by the US government and domestic semiconductor players to form a united approach to deal with the threat emerging from Japan’s consumer electronics driven (and government policy supported) move into advanced semiconductor fabrication.
While screeds have been written about the effect that SEMATECH ultimately played in helping the US semiconductor industry since then, the premise of having industry driving coordinated game-changing investments into technology is exactly what the solar PV industry needs today.
Working out who gets a seat at the table would need serious brainpower and political jostling. There is really no PV industry body in place today that connects these companies together, or could be used as a starting point in the discussions. Somebody somewhere would need to start this with essentially a blank sheet of paper and a deep-rooted knowledge in advanced technology manufacturing and equipment, not to mention what is really going on in China within the PV industry.
However, to begin with, perhaps the most important company to get on board is Applied Materials. One could maybe include DuPont and other major chemicals and materials suppliers also. Everyone would have their own ideas and suggestions, but the range should not be limited just to companies that have a track-record in serving the PV industry (now or in the past).
The key point is that leading equipment and material suppliers have to be the main drivers. And it is hard to think of any company other than Applied Materials that needs to be in pole position.
The next essential company to have on board is First Solar. There are so many reasons why the US needs First Solar to be part of the PV manufacturing solution per se (simply from a technology agnostic perspective). In its technology space, First Solar has created exactly the manufacturing model that the US needs from a silicon-based approach. Let’s look at a couple of factors now that explain this.
First Solar has an equipment and materials supply-chain that is Western and does not rely on China. But it is not just having this group of suppliers from a transactional standpoint, these companies have R&D activity that is 100% aligned with that of First Solar’s technology roadmap. They work collectively on the next generation panels to be released by First Solar.
It sounds incredibly simple and obvious, and it is exactly what the US needs to have on the silicon PV side. And let’s not forget that this model by default ensures that all know-how and intellectual property (IP) is securely protected and cannot be replicated elsewhere (and especially within China).
First Solar is, without much doubt, the most successful PV manufacturer globally to date (outside of China). And the company exists now purely on the basis of PV manufacturing, as opposed to being a very small part of a larger operating entity that can act as a buffer for any PV manufacturing or cash-flow limitations. The fact that First Solar is US-headquartered and stock-market listed, and its module production accounts for the vast majority of PV manufacturing done today within the US, is just further evidence that the company needs to be part of the overall solution. And let’s not forget its lobbying power.
The quid-pro-quo from First Solar’s perspective is that there are well-known efficiency limits on the current CdTe process flow that defines the company’s existing manufacturing capacity. At some point in the next five years, there will have to be significant changes that see modules made by the company (on whatever technology) performing above 25% and with a roadmap that gets closer to 30% within ten years.
This is where First Solar is no different to all current single-junction silicon-based producers, and why indeed there is a technology race globally today to be the first country (as opposed to company) to have a beyond-single-junction PV manufacturing ecosystem.
Let’s imagine now that this consortium of sorts is in creation. What needs to happen with regards manufacturing? Before I do this, l summarize quickly why China has become such a threat to the US in PV production and supply-chain ownership.
China has already created a PV foundry of sorts
Some 20 years ago, most of my early travels to Asia on PV business were to Taiwan where, at the time, Taiwanese cell manufacturers (mostly pure-play) were setting the benchmarks for low-cost, high-yield p-type multi-crystalline silicon-based cell production.
While visiting 100MW cell production lines was informative, it was being exposed to the sheer scale of new (semiconductor and displays) fabs being built on the same science parks in Taiwan by the likes of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), United Microelectronics Corporation and AU Optronics that got me thinking more broadly.
Could solar PV manufacturing end up having a model anywhere close to what the Taiwan government had so successfully created then, and with partners that included the very best of Western research, design and capital equipment supply?
Could a TSMC style foundry ever have a role in the PV industry? One in which a massive cell fab could serve multiple customers (who were simply assembling the modules)?
However, as soon as China subsequently steamrolled Western PV manufacturing (and indeed shattered the raison d’être for even the Taiwan pure-play cell model), thinking about how or why a PV cell foundry outside China might take shape became an academic and meaningless exercise.
What has happened over the past 10-15 years is that China had created its own concentration of PV companies, acting like a de-facto foundry that is a sum-of-many-parts, but ultimately with each stakeholder singing from the same hymn sheet.
Unified in cost and technology metrics, the cross-pollination of know-how and shared IP between domestic equipment, materials and silicon-based manufacturing (all across the value-chain) has created almost one giant upstream silicon-based engine (like a foundry in scale) that module suppliers can access to sell branded products outside the country.
You can view this state-driven foundry-of-sorts as being either one encompassing the entire polysilicon/ingot/wafer/cell value-chain, or complementary foundries of polysilicon, wafers and cells. I see it closer to the complementary-foundry analogy, and this aligns with the flexible in-house/third-party sourcing of wafers and cells that are done by upstream entities in China on a somewhat casual basis.
Looking at PV manufacturing in China today in different ways – economy-of-scale, silicon technology leadership, ability to bankroll highly capital-intensive capacity build outs – it is clear that these are strengths of a foundry model. Currently, within any Western country, market forces make this type of PV landscape inconceivable, unless there is a political driver that is motivated by national interest.
But from a Chinese perspective, it is perhaps the single most important factor in getting China where it is today, in terms of owning virtually the entire silicon-based value-chain, most of the equipment and materials used, and determining technology changes from the size of a sliced wafer, the process steps to fabricate a solar cell, through to the dimensions of an assembled solar module.
The concept of the foundry model (in general) has been dissected in minute detail over the past couple of years, almost entirely from a semiconductor supply-chain standpoint. Mainstream discussions have tracked a sequence of events that highlighted how exposed countries without domestic manufacturing (especially the US) have come to be: initiated by the fire at Japan’s chipmaker Renesas Electronics in March 2021 that limited supply to the automotive industry; and then compounded by the fragility of Taiwan’s economic and political relationship with the West in the context of Chinese Taipei aspirations.
In fact, the global solar industry has also been impacted on occasion by outages caused by explosions and fires at polysilicon plants in China, routinely causing global module pricing to be hiked up on the back of raw materials shortages. More than 90% of polysilicon used for silicon-based manufacturing today is made in China and this share (by virtue of new plants being built in China, but not in Xinjiang province) is only going to increase in the next few years.
The semiconductor foundry model – and its various supply-chain and value-chain iterations – evolved over several decades of mainly private-sector investments and decision-making, and what is in place today was never mapped out as any end-goal. It is simply that events over the past few years have exposed its limitations, weaknesses and risks.
But from a technology standpoint, it is beyond comparison. The main problem for the US, of course, is that the leading foundry proponent, TSMC, is located in Taiwan and has Western developed technology that China cannot compete with and desperately wants.
If TSMC did not exist, but the concept was still seen as the only way for a capex and R&D intensive segment like semiconductors to prosper, then semi Foundry 2.0 would be built today in the US with massive government incentives and the full participation of the same companies that supply to and feed off the likes of TSMC. No questions would be asked when it came to the level of investment this required. To its credit, this is a key theme of sorts within the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act, albeit left in the hands of industry proponents.
Therefore, given that a Western foundry model does not exist in the PV industry, should this not be considered right now before the dominance of China in silicon-based solar simply becomes too difficult to dismantle?
As soon as the CHIPS Act was announced, the solar details within the IRA came to light, and signs of investment started to emerge regarding new US silicon-based solar manufacturing capex, I got back to thinking about the solar PV foundry concept, almost two decades after those trips to the science parks in Taiwan.
A 100GW cell foundry driven by US stakeholders?
Let’s consider now what a massive silicon cell foundry would look like in the US, and how it could be what is ultimately needed to radically change the current PV manufacturing landscape globally, not simply with an eye on US-China relations.
From a size perspective, the facility would need to be specified from the start at 100GW minimum, with the scope for expansion to several hundred GW’s in future investment phases and new technology upgrades. The focus has to be on the solar cell, or at least during the first few years (with upstream, not downstream expansion potential).
Despite what so many companies try to do today (on a much smaller scale), the cell foundry simply cannot make the modules also. This is probably vital to the model working.
The foundry would fabricate cells for module companies to buy, assemble and sell to the end-market. This uses a theme I have touched on for years. Making is one skill set. Selling to increasingly institutional and utility-financed investors building solar farms is a different proposition. There is a very strong case to keep them apart. Cell production focuses on the inherent technology. Module assembly focuses on the final product performance, reliability and the warranty in the field.
Therefore, in the first instance, the cell foundry simply makes cells and sells these to a host of US based module assembly companies that form the link between module supply (performance, testing, certification, contractual obligations, warranty, etc.) and module buyers (the EPCs, developers, final asset owners, banks, etc.).
Immediately, this removes one of the biggest problems for the entire US solar industry today: traceability and BOM auditing. The source of the cells is crystal clear; and the module supplier focuses entirely on making the assembled field product. So much of the traceability problems people are having now in buying modules is because module assemblers often have limited, if any, visibility into cell manufacturing and the upstream wafers and polysilicon used.
In fact, it is mostly module factories that are being audited today, typically bypassing the cell production stage (as most module suppliers buy cells on an ad-hoc basis); cells fabs should probably be the ones that are audited first, but due to the current silicon supply-chain ecosystem, they are not.
The US foundry model solves this problem instantly for the entire US module-buying community. In fact, it simply removes the question from their frame of reference, in addition to saving a massive amount of resource being allocated today by the Commerce Department.
Indeed, it eliminates almost every issue that has landed on the PV industry in the US in connection with importing products (cells and modules) from China and Southeast Asia. Yes, there is still the question of polysilicon and wafers, but a 100GW cell foundry in the US would literally turbo-charge activities upstream from the cell in the US (or across the US and Europe, as I also touch on later).
On this theme, there is actually a strong case for polysilicon and wafer production in the US having a strategy that merges semiconductor and solar, and has the likes of SAS or others making product in the country for both technologies? Hemlock, REC Silicon and Wacker’s Tennessee site exist for each segment, so why not use this fact, and make silicon and wafer security a joint project?
Solar is now a mono-crystalline silicon-based entity, and no longer uses lower-purity (than semiconductor) feedstock. In fact, the current move from p-type to n-type cell manufacturing now requires a purity level of polysilicon that is close to that used by the semiconductor industry. But this is a discussion for later.
Where the solar cell foundry model here differs from the TSMC (semiconductor) concept is that is has to be co-located with a consortium driven R&D lab. And this R&D lab has to look fundamentally different to any other silicon-based R&D (either academic or government sponsored) that has existed until now in the solar industry. I think there are several reasons this is needed.
The R&D undertaken has to be aligned with what is needed for changes in manufacturing within the foundry: in contrast to other silicon solar fabs that often license technology (IP and know-how) from research institutes in Europe and Australia, for example, including the trend until now of Western R&D institutes transferring PV technology into China; factors that not only contributed to the Chinese PV industry growing fast 20 years ago, but subsequently staying ahead.
Contrast this now with the discussion before regarding First Solar, as probably the only company in the solar industry that has this type of in-house, manufacturing-linked R&D focus. By virtue of being technology differentiated, First Solar has had to create its own R&D team and strategy and make this work in the past 20 years, otherwise the company would not exist. There has been no other company making the same technology. There has been no CdTe R&D program globally anywhere near the scale of First Solar.
It is one of the main reasons I believe that the consortium needs to include First Solar and other Western-allied heavyweights of the semiconductor and displays sectors that are au fait with Intel-like investment levels into R&D.
This kind of R&D investment culture could also create a manufacturing-led technology roadmap for the industry, something needed today to consolidate leading participants and focus direction going forward. Silicon technology has been almost exclusively shaped by China’s participants for the past 10-15 years. Changing this needs a radical rethink of R&D strategy by the Western world.
In terms of where the foundry should reside, this would likely be another thorny issue to overcome; and one whose trappings today are being exposed in the attempts to onshore semiconductor manufacturing in the US, set against a backdrop of state-level inward-incentive competitiveness, permitting challenges, and skilled labour-force (non) availability.
The decision on where the solar cell foundry is located should probably be detached from the whims of state-level politics, and simply deemed of national importance. For example, what about a federal mandate for the foundry to be sited in the heart of Silicon Valley? Strategically positioned to thrive within a technology progressive culture alongside some of the custodians charged with making it a success? Either way, if the industry ever gets to the stage of seriously debating ‘where’, some huge hurdles will already have been overcome. ‘Where’ will be a nice problem to have.
Investment needed for a 100GW cell foundry
Creating a 100GW solar cell foundry in the US likely has a price tag in the region of US$10 billion (for capex including related infrastructure). However, to establish the foundry with an intrinsic ecosystem (including R&D efforts and incentives for stakeholders) probably adds a further US$10 billion. Therefore, in rough numbers, I see this as a circa US$20 billion (plus-or-minus) ticket covering a three-to-five year window.
The numbers might look big to some, but this is simply the magnitude of capex needed today to have a seat at the solar PV manufacturing table. Let’s put this in perspective.
During 2023, module revenues globally will be in the range US$90-100 billion. Within this, module revenues for US deployment this year will be range US$14-18 billion. Upstream, silicon solar cell revenues (including both third-party recognized or in-house transacted) will be in the range $45-55 billion (of which more than 90% stays on the books of Chinese companies).
One single company, headquartered in South Korea – Hanwha Solutions, part of the Hanwha Group – has announced it intends to spend close to about US$2.8 billion on PV component manufacturing (to make ingots, wafers, cells, modules and EVA) in the US over the next few years.
However, the most chilling analogy comes from looking at the capex that is forecast to be spent this year by Chinese PV companies on capacity expansions. Of the circa US$25 billion global capex across the silicon-based ingot-to-module value-chain, more than 90% of the spending comes from companies headquartered in China (with new fabs concentrated in mainland China and the Southeast Asia trio of Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia).
The Chinese solar PV industry already has a near monopoly on silicon solar PV manufacturing. A few more years of these spending trends may simply make it impossible for anyone to challenge without a technology node change that makes much of Chinese solar capacity redundant overnight.
Even more emphatic are the collective plans of the five main Chinese PV module suppliers globally today; LONGi Green Energy, JinkoSolar, Trina Solar, JA Solar and Canadian Solar. This year, these five companies alone will spend a record US$7.5 billion on new ingot/wafer and cell/module capex, with almost all this going to new fabs in China and Southeast Asia. In fact, during the five-year period from 2018 to 2023, the ingot-to-module capex from just these five companies adds up to US$25 billion.
The circa US$20 billion needed for the US cell foundry concept has to encompass some kind of incentivization for domestic equipment and materials suppliers to get involved. How this is done would have to be structured appropriately.
But right now, the scope of the IRA does not offer any incentives to domestic equipment suppliers, when this is quite possibly more important than allowances being offered to the companies that are intending to make the cells or modules in the US (with non-US tooling).
Regardless what you infer from the comparative billion-dollar capex analogies above, it should be obvious that it is more preferable to have one US-owned entity spending circa US$1 billion annually on capex, compared to this coming from an internationally-diverse range of companies with little or no synergy to their PV operations and long-term decision-making (nor indeed any corporate, national allegiance to the US and its values).
Several times so far, I have mentioned the potential shortcomings of having a wide range of domestic and overseas entities left to decide the overall make-up of the US cell manufacturing landscape five years from now. But there is one important role that overseas companies can and should play if the 100GW cell foundry is to be a success. This is covered below now.
Collaborating with Western allies on capital equipment development
Restricting the consortium and foundry activity to US-owned entities alone would likely put down barriers that could hinder or derail the concept, rather than enable it. Nor would it be in the US’s interests to exclude certain countries’ expertise and participation.
The obvious (semiconductor) analogy here is to look at how the most sophisticated lithography tool today – based on extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) – came to fruition, and the role of one company based in the Netherlands (ASML). It could be argued that EUV would not exist without ASML, or indeed the coordinated internal R&D and capex involvement of certain European companies like ASML (for tool assembly), ZEISS (optics) and TRUMPF (laser).
When adapting this theme to solar (within the context of this article), the door should stay open for leading equipment and materials companies in allied countries and regions, such as Japan, South Korea, Europe and maybe a few others of value, such as Israel.
In fact, this international involvement (at the tooling level) would align partially with Hanwha’s proposed investments in its US operations, and the expertise still in Europe for critical cell equipment needed for the latest n-type (heterojunction or TOPCon) cell lines.
Indeed, ever since Hanwha acquired the former Q CELLS in Germany back in 2012, the company has mainly used European equipment suppliers for capacity expansions (across its cells fabs in China, Malaysia and South Korea) and subsequent upgrades. It is likely the plans for new capacity in the US will default to European (and South Korean) equipment supply.
Therefore, to equip a 100GW cell foundry in the US would likely require a broad Western alliance of stakeholders (focused on equipment), each already wedded to some aspect of advanced manufacturing directly within the US or as part of a supply arrangement to a US-headquartered company.
Interestingly, the US has recent form here when one considers the proposed SolarCity (Silevo) fab in Buffalo, NY, back in 2014; despite the fact that the project rather inevitably ended up being terminated before it could be tested out.
With capex planned at US$300-400 million (through a combination of SolarCity & New York state investments), the circa 1GW cell and module heterojunction fab had the scope to transform US silicon-based solar manufacturing. It was an ambitious plan by Elon Musk, then the chairman of SolarCity, a key driver in the company’s strategy and a leading proponent of domestic solar cell manufacturing.
This was a time when the PV industry was starting to move from p-type multi to p-type mono. Heterojunction manufacturing was being wound down by Panasonic and the industry needed a company to move this to the next level at the GW-scale. And just for good measures, the Buffalo fab had been designed to use copper electroplating (and opposed to silver printing).
However, what makes the Buffalo plans more pertinent today was the choice of equipment and material suppliers that had been actively engaged in Silevo’s US (Fremont, California) and Chinese pilot-line efforts, including: US based Applied Materials, Europe based Von Ardenne and SINGULUS, and Japanese equipment supplier NPC. Granted, Chinese equipment was not available then for key heterojunction stages (in particular deposition), but the principle of forming a bespoke Western equipment supplier alliance of sorts for US solar cell lines was novel at the time.
Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a technology-ambitious, self-made billionaire white knight that ends up bankrolling this 100GW solar cell foundry concept, if a workable US public/private-vested consortium cannot be facilitated or is simply too wieldy to operate in practice.
It may seem early to prejudge the collective plans of about 30-40 companies in the PV sector today, in terms of how the landscape of silicon-based solar cell manufacturing in the US will develop in the next few years. And it has to be said that few, if any, of the companies announcing new silicon-based cell capacity have come out with any details of note, and it is not clear if any production equipment has actually been ordered for these new US cell lines.
It is okay to be in a wait-and-see mode, but by the time new cell capacity is slated to come online in the US (at the earliest), Chinese silicon-based solar cell companies will likely have added a further couple of hundred GW’s of new cell capacity between them.
All aspects of US solar manufacturing covered in this article will be analyzed and discussed at the forthcoming PV CellTech USA 2023 conference on 3-4 October 2023. To learn more about the event, or to get involved in speaking, please contact us through the link here.