PV Tech’s international R&D spending report highlighted data and developments in R&D spending from the ‘Photo voltaic Module Tremendous League’ (SMSL) group of photo voltaic producers, with that group of ten firms persevering with to set information data out to 2020. This has been very true of LONGi Inexperienced Vitality, which has led on R&D spending in recent times.
This report highlights how the important thing expertise transition from passivated emitter rear cell (PERC) to tunnel oxide passivated contact (TOPCon) has been borne out in R&D spending, beginning with the highly-competitive members of the SMSL and an acceleration in R&D after 2016.
Historic (2007 – 2016) R&D spending from 12 key PV module producers mixed
Within the early years of the above talked about interval, from 2007 to 2011, the 12 SMSL member producers reported a steep sequential enhance in R&D spending, totalling US$510.4 million on the finish of 2011. This adopted a spending decline that began in 2004, triggered by an overcapacity state of affairs and different provide chain constraints.
However after that decline, R&D spending elevated to a brand new peak in 2011 and remained comparatively secure – falling solely to US$422.6 million in 2013 – because the trade embraced unprecedented international demand for photo voltaic PV and the emergence of a brand new dominant expertise in PERC.
R&D spend 2007 – 2016 by producer, together with dominant expertise
In relation to PERC expertise spending, from the above chart it may be clearly seen that spending from SMSL firms has been traditionally dominated by PERC expertise. Nevertheless, different producers have offered a variety of photo voltaic cell applied sciences, together with TOPCon, HJT and Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) skinny movie.
First Photo voltaic, which has lengthy championed CdTe skinny movie, notably spent round US$1 billion between 2007 and 2016 on R&D, bringing ahead its expertise. In the meantime SunPower spent a mixed US$600 million in the identical timeframe advancing its specialism in interdigitated again contact (IBC) expertise.
In relation to spending on PERC, this will appear comparatively and relatively small, with every firm solely spending round US$200 million every in R&D. Nevertheless the mixed degree of R&D spending by the SMSL producers on PERC outstripped that of different applied sciences and complete R&D spending, no matter expertise, exceeded historic highs, because the above chart reveals.
The evolution of the SMSL
SMSL producers have undergone substantial change since we first started collating R&D spending figures, maybe finest typified by the acceleration of R&D spending, nameplate manufacturing capacities and enterprise mannequin which now go a lot additional – in each complexity and scale – than earlier than.
The standard enterprise module of photo voltaic module producers has modified from one whereby the corporate provides modules solely, and procures the cells and wafers essential to assemble a PV module. A producer would ordinarily have shipped to international demand, with the principle income assortment from international shipments.
Traditionally these enterprise fashions have been comparatively easy, and SMSL firms want solely be categorised primarily based on income recognition and the extent of module shipments. Nevertheless the size at which shipments have been recorded has grown from megawatts to gigawatts to tens of gigawatts, and different manufacturing rating mechanisms have additionally assessed different components equivalent to bankability and nameplate module capability.
A brand new period of scale and funding
In some ways, LONGi has develop into emblematic of the brand new period of scale witnessed inside photo voltaic PV. LONGi has established a big manufacturing footprint from wafer to module, recording wafer cargo gross sales of 58.15GW in 2020 (each internally and externally) – equal to a market share in extra of 25% – rising as soon as once more to 70GW final yr. Module shipments final yr additionally grew meteorically to 38.52GW. Given its scale and breadth of protection, LONGi may maybe be finest described as ushering in a ‘conglomerate-type’ enterprise mannequin for photo voltaic PV, one which has translated into accelerated R&D spending.
In 2014, after years of R&D into PERC as a successor to Al-BSF – and with further catalysts within the growth of ‘collective’ spending and expertise buying cycles – the SMSL turned its consideration to TOPCon, because the beneath chart highlights.
SMSL R&D cell expertise spending into TOPCon, 2014 – 2020
The chart illustrates an essential growth pattern of R&D spending acceleration, triggered by market demand, that had been forming as a collective or a clustering impact round a specific expertise sort since 2014.
The above collective – Canadian Photo voltaic, Suntech, Yingli Inexperienced, Trina Photo voltaic, JA Photo voltaic, Talesun, Risen Vitality, JinkoSolar and LONGi – have pushed R&D spending into TOPCon in pursuit of aggressive benefit, however have collectively invested billions into commercialising new cell applied sciences.
In 2014, the SMSL switched to TOPCon expertise, setting an essential pattern in movement alongside an acceleration of R&D spending in what was a brief five-year interval. For instance, Canadian Photo voltaic spent round US$12.5 million in 24, however accelerated this determine to US$45.16 million by 2020. JinkoSolar in the meantime spent simply US$17.3 million in 2014, however grew this greater than three-fold to US$59.64 million in 2020.
As one other indicator of LONGi setting the tempo for others within the sector, its R&D spending set data from 2014 to 2020, accelerating its R&D expenditure on the quickest charge by far. In complete, LONGi’s R&D spending elevated nine-fold from 2014 to 2020.
However, by investing as a collective in TOPCon over that five-year interval, the SMSL successfully created a transition pushed by a collective spending and expertise purchase cycle.
The funding and expertise purchase cycle
The expertise purchase cycle has been created because of a necessity for aggressive merchandise to rapidly ramp up and seize international market demand. Arguably, this cycle is much like the impact of the semiconductor trade which has seen related will increase to the price of superior supplies, new manufacturing capability and its workforce.
International demand for photo voltaic is skyrocketing, tilting the trade from one led by demand to at least one dictated by provide or capability. However why is spending on TOPCon so standard?
The expansion of photo voltaic PV demand coincides with different components, one in every of which being monocrystalline’s dominance (in 2020 monocrystalline’s share over multi had exceeded 90%), alongside the necessity for a colossal enhance in manufacturing capability which has, in flip, created sturdy demand for superior photo voltaic cell processing instruments.
Going from PERC to TOPCon is advantageous as a result of similarity in manufacturing processes, that means that the transition is more economical. Transferring from PERC to TOPCon is relatively low cost on a cost-per-watt foundation, requiring fewer variations equivalent to metallisation, diffusion furnaces and PECVD. Because of this, the market demand may be happy with no main enhance within the levelised value of electrical energy, permitting aggressive manufacturing to stay.
Moreover, SMSL producers have additionally been in a position to obtain value advantages by means of benefits in coaching of employees and in different buying points, equivalent to these affecting backsheet, glass and metallisation paste pushed by international demand.
As famous above, the SMSL has set new data for R&D spending to progress in direction of the shift from PERC to TOPCon, establishing a pattern for increasingly to be spent on expertise growth in every of the previous six years. The spending dominance of LONGi particularly has put earlier leaders First Photo voltaic and Sunpower within the shade.
This has facilitated the SMSL in rapidly leveraging on superior PERC and reinforcing their lead in TOPCon expertise, growing a brand new provide chain change and successfully creating the shift to TOPCon by means of a collective funding and expertise purchase cycle.
The response to international demand from finish markets has, because the above notes, been an unprecedented acceleration in R&D spending.