What is the real PV technology roadmap?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

Increasing panel efficiencies and power ratings represents a key deliverable from the PV industry today. These requirements are not simply long-term objectives for the industry as a whole: they are essential at the company level to differentiate leading suppliers within an overcrowded and highly competitive manufacturing environment.
Efficiency enhancements typically require changes in manufacturing process flow and materials (raw and consumable) used in production. Ideally, the technologies that drive these changes will be those featured within a technology roadmap.

PV manufacturers that succeed in implementing these technologies should be rewarded with dominant market-share. Equipment and materials suppliers that offer key products for the new process flows should become preferred suppliers during subsequent expansion phases.

It is therefore not surprising that there are many R&D labs, equipment/materials suppliers, PV manufacturers and regional associations that are aggressively seeking to influence the content and timing of such a roadmap. The conclusions that are derived from these roadmaps are frequently used by equipment and material suppliers as the basis of their corporate strategies to align with expected industry demand.

PV roadmap uncertainty

The above sequence of events is only effective if the roadmaps are closely tied to what is being implemented by PV manufacturers that have dominant market-share; something that has not always been the case.

Indeed, equipment and materials suppliers through the value-chain and the supply-chain have often learned this the hard way, having aligned their in-house strategies with roadmap outcomes that were different from the leading players in the PV industry.

Consequently, scepticism continues to be applied to some of the PV technology roadmaps under consideration.

However, the underlying premise of establishing a cohesive PV technology roadmap remains sound. What needs to change is the methodology and assumptions being used as the inputs to the roadmaps being proposed.

The NPD Solarbuzz PV technology roadmap

The NPD Solarbuzz methodology starts by mapping out detailed process flows for all PV manufacturers and then tracks the impact of products produced through each process flow type as they move downstream to satisfy end-market demand. This commercially-focused approach is supplemented by an analysis of manufacturers’ equipment spending and suppliers’ backlogs and recognized revenues at the tool level for each process flow.

A number of technology options arise through this method, characteristic of the highly fragmented PV technology landscape that has received strong capital equipment investment during the past 2-3 years. These investments – across a wide range of c-Si and thin-film alternatives – have often been supported by well-organized marketing campaigns that have presented strong argumentation in support of each option.

Despite the number of options being promoted, it is prudent to concentrate only on the existing and short-term plans of leading PV manufacturers. And with 9 out of the top-10 producers today coming from the c-Si segment, prioritizing tier 1 c-Si manufacturers becomes imperative.

Choosing which part of the c-Si value-chain to prioritize is also not without its challenges. Regardless of the commercial push on technology adoption that may come from low-ASP SoG polysilicon, new ingot growth methods such as cast-mono, or a greater adoption of diamond wire saws, the pull from c-Si cell manufacturing outweighs any upstream development.

Indeed, the various c-Si cell concepts used by tier 1 manufacturers place fundamental requirements on the quality of polysilicon, the substrate type (n-type or p-type, mono or multi), the wafer thickness, and the production tools employed. Each cell concept also has different processing costs (both fixed and variable) and average efficiency levels that can be realized. This combination of cost and efficiency then defines factory-gate $/W levels, with premium efficiency, bankability and supplier branding creating the final differentiated market offering.

Shortcomings of legacy c-Si segmentation

Historically, it was sufficient to segment c-Si technologies only by mono or multi (pulled, cast or ribbon grown), or by ‘standard’ or premium ‘high-efficiency’ (HE) categories. With the contributions from ribbon-growth and HE types being somewhat company-specific, the remainder of the industry was then lumped into a simple ‘mono-or-multi’ c-Si technology differentiation.

Today, however, a variety of roadmap options are being actively pursued by all other tier 1 c-Si cell manufacturers now. And this includes new concepts that cannot be adequately addressed simply by checking whether they utilize mono or multi wafer substrates.

Market leaders dictate roadmap technologies

Technologies that will ultimately dominate the PV industry will be those that the market leaders decide to implement in mass production. Moreover, these technologies may not even feature in PV roadmaps today.

Conversely, any technology not adopted by tier 1 participants is unlikely to gain anything but niche market traction (at least initially) regardless of how compelling the arguments are for lower cost or higher efficiency production.

There is no shortage of analogies from adjacent technology sectors to substantiate the above statements, and no reason why the PV industry should not evolve any differently.

Strategies of tier 1 c-Si cell makers

The strategies being implemented today by tier 1 c-Si producers can be broadly split into cost/yield optimization or advanced, high-efficiency (HE) cell concepts. Those manufacturers with a more cautious approach are favouring the cost/yield route. Others have been more aggressive in ramping capacity for advanced cell designs. However, all leading producers have announced JDAs, R&D activities, or pilot-line operations that now fall into the HE category.

When reviewing the different options being pursued for higher efficiencies, no less than 15 different cell types comprised the 2011 production output from tier 1 cell makers, as illustrated in Figure 1. Even the generic ‘label’ of Selective Emitter, being widely marketed as a badge of credibility for in-house plans, covers a diverse range of options at the front and back-end.

Therefore, it is perhaps too early to jump to any immediate conclusions for a technology roadmap that encompasses the majority of tier 1 c-Si cell production. During 2011, over 75% of c-Si cells supplied by tier 1 producers were based upon legacy process flows that have dominated PV manufacturing for the past decade. Rather, a more useful leading indicator will be derived from the progress of the various Gen 2 HE concepts (including all the Selective Emitters) over the next 12-18 months.

Where is the technology-buy cycle?

With new capacity investments broadly on hold until there is sufficient confidence of annual demand exceeding the 30-35 GW level, it is widely predicted that a technology-buy cycle will pre-empt any incremental capacity coming online from tier 1 manufacturers. Indeed, the nature of these technology-buys should offer some guidance as to which of the emerging HE cell concepts are the front-runners that will shape the PV technology roadmap of the future.

However, in this regard, there are no strong signals yet to guide equipment and materials suppliers. Technology-buys have yet to provide any meaningful upgrade or retrofit spending contribution.  What technology-buys there have been over the past 12 months have been spread across a diverse range of technologies at the ingot and cell manufacturing stages.

Only when the true manufacturing costs of new concepts are fully established will the respective manufacturers be in a position to assess whether these technologies are sufficiently mature to warrant prime time deployment.

Until then, the overall efficiency distribution of c-Si cells produced by tier 1 manufacturers (see Figure 2) may offer the most useful indicator as to the rate of technology change across the PV industry. Coupled with manufacturing cost reductions, this once again highlights that the $/W ratio remains the only metric that may have a roadmap trajectory that few would disagree on.

9 December 2021
The Smart Energy Council is hosting Australia’s second Virtual Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition on Thursday, 9 December 2021. This event will show that the industry powers on despite COVID-19 and we are standing together undeterred in spirit. Bringing our global community together using the latest technology.
13 January 2022
Intersolar North America and Energy Storage North America “Come Together” for the first time in Long Beach, CA—connecting installers, developers, utilities, technology providers, policy makers, and key stakeholders from around the world to advance the clean energy future. With best-in-class conference programming, integrated exhibits and pavilions, and the live Solar Games installer competition, #isnaesna21 will showcase the industry trends, innovative solutions, and emerging talent transforming the solar, energy storage, and e-mobility markets. Register today to redeem our exclusive offer for PV Tech readers—free expo hall or 20% off full conference pass.
1 February 2022
As Solar Finance & Investment enters its ninth year, we sit on the cusp of a new power market with solar at its heart. The 2022 edition of the event will build on our years of expertise and relationships to bring investors and lenders together with top developers. Connect with leaders in the field and use exclusive insights to drive investment and development decisions for the future. Meet new and existing project partners at the largest gathering of European solar investors and lenders.
23 February 2022
Held annually since 2016, the Energy Storage Summit Europe is the place to be for senior stakeholders in the European storage industry. Designed to accelerate deployment of storage, we examine evolving chemistries, business models, project design, revenue stacks and use cases for storage. The 2022 edition will include exclusive content around longer duration solutions, energy strategies for wide-scale deployment of EVs and "EnTech", the event which sits at the intersection of digitisation, decentralisation and decarbonation of the power system. Come to meet TSOs, DSOs, Utilities, Developers, Investors and Lenders and leave with new contacts, partners and a wealth of information.
7 March 2022
Take your chance to join the most powerful platform in the MENA region. Middle East Energy (MEE), Intersolar, and ees, the leading energy exhibitions are joining hands to co-deliver an outstanding renewables and energy storage event at Middle East Energy 2021. Renewables and energy storage at MEE is the largest gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the Middle East & Africa, offering the most effective trade focused platform to international manufacturers and distributors looking to meet regional buyers.
23 March 2022
When it comes to storage, the US market exceeded a gigawatt of advanced energy storage installations (weighted towards lithium ion) at 1.46 GW, more than the previous six years in total! An exponential growth rate could see the market hit 7.5 GW p.a. by 2025. The summit will provide a wealth of content around this vital piece in the US power puzzle, with sessions dedicated to explore how companies are making money from batteries, the latest chemistries and their applications as they apply to different use-cases. We ask how investors can match ESG criteria to batteries and we will bring case studies of successful deployment and project execution onto the stage to examine how you can ensure your own projects are successful.

Read Next

December 3, 2021
Norwegian module marketplace company Otovo has launched in Germany, with the company expecting 1,000 new customers over the next year
December 3, 2021
Solar investor and asset manager NextEnergy Capital Group (NEC) has secured backing from the UK Infrastructure Bank for a new fund that aims to raise £500 million (US$663 million) to invest in subsidy-free solar power plants in the UK.
December 3, 2021
Indian independent power producer (IPP) ReNew Power has signed an agreement with Indian engineering giant Larsen & Toubro (L&T) to develop green hydrogen facilities, becoming the latest PV developer to do so after a string of recent announcements
December 3, 2021
Koch Engineered Solutions (KES) LLC has acquired US engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firm DEPCOM, which specialises in utility-scale solar PV projects, for an undisclosed amount
December 3, 2021
Heterojunction cell and module manufacturer Meyer Burger has reduced module output at one of its production plants in Germany as COVID-19 is causing above-average workforce absences due to illness and quarantine orders.
December 3, 2021
Tianjin Zhonghuan Semiconductor (TZS) has become the latest solar wafer manufacturer to cut prices, while also launching a new 218.2mm-size wafer.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
February 1, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
February 23, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 23, 2022
Austin, Texas, USA
Solar Media Events
March 29, 2022
Lisbon, Portugal