At GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) ‘New Product and Technology Briefing’ the company provided further insight into its “game-changing” ‘Merlin’ cell metallization and interconnect technology, which the company said it expected first customer purchase orders in the second-half of 2014.
By eliminating bus bars completely by a flexible mesh providing a unique patented narrow aspect ratio finger profile and importantly eliminating the need for tabbing and stringing processes, GTAT claimed an overall 80% cost reduction in silver paste consumption and an overall 10% cost reduction in system costs.
Replacing conventional tabbing and stringing processes has long been the aim of the industry and indeed high-performance back-contact solar cells are shifting to metal wrap through (MWT) and other back-contact designs but processing cost reductions have limited adoption.
The route taken by GTAT was said to be cell design agnostic for both the flexible mesh metallization technology as well as the copper fixed-tab extension on the backside of the cell to enable cell to cell connection. The only existing step that remains is cell layout.
Management noted that customer preference to stay with standard and upgraded fine-line screen printers was a key consideration in the developing the technology.
However, the copper plated backside cell to cell interconnect (grid attachment) is a special processing tool that GTAT has developed and will sell to customers, including the flexible mesh, which it has currently partnered with a third-party manufacturer for initial ramp.
Management were quick to highlight during the Q&A session that the third-party manufacturer of the flexible mesh was based in Asia, rather than China and that if expected adoption rates came to fruition, the company would consider in-house manufacturing that would be US-based.
Indeed, management highlighted the confidence they had in the technology being adopted having selected around four key potential adopters to be involved in the proof of concept evaluations.
Tom Gutierrez, President and CEO claimed, “Everyone that’s seen it wants it now,” adding that potential customers also wanted total exclusivity but the company politely refused.
Gutierrez responded during the Q&A session that the first customer is expected to be from overseas but inferred there were three to four potential customers interested in the technology from all different continents.
As with such technology, the company noted in presentations that it planned to have IEC 61215 certification in the second half of the year as well as the first volume flexible mesh manufacturing line commissioned in that timeframe.
Management noted that it had made projections of the Merlin technology adoption based on both PV market growth through 2018 and initial potential customer interest that indicated that the total available market (TAM) for the technology could reach US$1 billion in revenue for the company with a 20% manufacturer adoption rate.
However, should the adoption rate be around 8% the revenue from the technology would still become a US$400 million market.
The question will be as GTAT believes the market acceptance should evolve, is the end of tabbing and stringing PV modules going to happen sooner than expected?