The most recent NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly highlighted the fact that PV polysilicon and wafer prices dropped nearly 50% in 2011 and with demand for solar systems expected to either stay fixed or drop further, polysilicon and wafer revenues will most likely follow suit. The report predicts that revenues for polysilicon will fall 35%, while wafer revenues decrease by 47%, mostly due to a surplus of polysilicon and wafer production, which has led to some manufacturers slowing or stopping production at factories while reducing utilization. Solarbuzz noted that polysilicon factory utilization is expected to tumble from 76% in 2011 to 66% in 2012, while wafer utilization is projected to decrease from 64% to 57%.
Solarbuzz advised that in order for manufacturers to try and stay ahead, they must consider cast-mono, which the report cites has becoming almost necessary for Chinese manufacturers if they plan to remain competitive. “Chinese manufacturers know they need to increase conversion efficiencies in order to remain competitive in the oversupplied market. They see cast-mono as a low-cost approach with relatively low technical barriers to achieving this goal,” stated Charles Annis, VP at NPD Solarbuzz.
Cast-mono technology allows hybrid mono/multicrystalline ingots to grow in high productivity conventional multicrystalline DS casting furnaces at lower costs than Cz that is grown mono ingots. Solarbuzz acknowledged that commercial production of cast-mono wafers and modules began in 2011 with the technology expected to produce 2.4GW, or about 8%, of total PV wafer production in 2012. In fact, by 2016, according to the Solarbuzz report, cast-mono production is estimated to account for over 25% of all wafer production.
“Many leading Chinese manufacturers are very optimistic about cast-mono, but there are still multiple technical and commercial challenges, such as the wide range of efficiency distributions and the non-uniform appearance of modules, which need to be resolved before the technology can fully achieve its promise of higher efficiency at lower costs. In 2012, we will see how the end market receives a strong supplier push of cast-mono,” added Annis.