A few weeks ago, LONGi topped PV Tech’s ranking of solar module suppliers for the second consecutive year, meaning that the company has leapfrogged its peers in just a few short years, having only started manufacturing and shipping modules in 2015.
“Acknowledgement as the world’s leading module supplier is recognition of our brand, product and operational philosophy,” Dennis She, VP of the LONGi Group, told PV Tech in an exclusive interview, “but it’s also a result of the PV industry developing very fast as the world decarbonises.”
The company’s success has not been without its challenges, however. Having achieved top spot, LONGi’s every move is now analysed and future plans closely scrutinised. Competition has also increased, while the industry itself has endured a turbulent period with significant supply chain volatility.
“Competition is valuable to us as it makes us reflect on what we’re doing. There have been significant fluctuations in PV supply chain costs, coupled with negative forecasts for global trade amid various crises around the world and, while LONGi has managed to maintain growth of its market share, we’ve also enhanced our services and made our handling of any customer issues much more effective,” he said, adding that the company had recently launched a three-year targeted marketing and sales plan to address those areas.
“We want to change the over-simplified growth model of the past and move instead towards quality development, while at the same time focusing on our customers’ needs. Only by further improving customer satisfaction with our products and services can we maintain our leading position.”
As the solar industry has evolved, with different applications of PV requiring different approaches, so too have customer demands, with these becoming ever more diversified. LONGi is developing more detailed marketing and product strategies to address this pivot, with product ranges to be more clearly defined and targeted at specific segments. Furthermore, services will also be more targeted, catering for a range of differentiated scenarios and customer demands.
However, this is not to say that LONGi isn’t also pursuing greater scale. Dennis She is confident that the company will ship around 60GW of modules this year, stretching its lead at the top of the market.
“Our goal essentially targets market share. Since we’re unsure of the market capacity this year, we’ve made a prediction based on our own calculations and we intend to grow our market share in different markets,” he explained.
LONGi not betting on any one next-generation technology
While LONGi was not an early pioneer of module manufacturing, it has sought to make up ground since 2015. After applying PERC technology in 2016, the company shared its LIR technology with the industry the following year to address LID and continues to invest around 5% of its operational revenue in R&D each year.
While numerous module manufacturers have raced into TOPCon, other n-type technologies such as heterojunction are also under the microscope. LONGi, however, is not betting on any one technology to lead the pack. “We’re actively exploring all directions. We’ve witnessed cell conversion rates increase seven times in the last year with different technological road maps, indicating that there’s still a lot of room for innovation and research into next-generation cell technology,” Mr She continued.
He expressed his view that, amongst technology types, the solar industry may be becoming too attached to such details. “Some companies turn technology issues into business hype to stir things up. The industry needs to redirect its focus onto finding the optimum point, balancing core values such as efficiency, LCOE and long-term reliability.”
With global decarbonisation assuming even more importance in the wake of COP26 and other events, the PV industry looks set to shoulder more responsibility, with companies in the space facing greater obligations.
This, LONGi’s vice president pointed out, has occurred at the same time as the emergence of a more mature PV industry. “In the past, solar power projects were realised using subsidies and at pilot sites. It was like a half-grown child. Now we need to establish a new power system that mainly relies on renewable energies, especially PV. Solar will become the pillar of the entire power generation system, and it should seek to grow with reliability and stability in the long-term.”
The new energy system will, however, require more diversified business models, accompanied by higher standards for the PV industry. LONGi has prepared itself for this, creating more long-term value and launching a whole lifecycle quality standard.
“This warns against blindly expanding module format sizes while promoting a more sustainable PV industry, which reflects LONGi’s long-standing principle of being a company that, in the long-term, creates value for society as well as its customers,” he concluded.