Polycrystalline Solar Modules Cannot Survive for Long in India_ LONGi Solar Interview

The introduction of passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) cell technology has markedly increased the efficiency of monocrystalline cells, making them an economically attractive option for many projects. However, the use of polycrystalline modules still dominates the market in India, though developers have begun to seriously consider mono PERC modules as they come with several significant advantages.

With the increased acceptance of high-efficiency monocrystalline (mono) technology in solar projects around the world, Chinese cell and module suppliers are swiftly scaling the production of these products.

This shift is occurring rapidly as mono PERC modules are more efficient and can help reduce land and other balance of system (BoS) costs for developers, leading to higher returns. Until now, the Indian market has been slow to adopt the technology due to its price-sensitive nature, but Indian developers will need to shift to newer technologies sooner rather than later.

Module manufacturers such as LONGi have shown their conviction in mono products and have shifted towards monocrystalline technology.  To get a clearer idea about the trends and challenges in solar manufacturing segment, Mercom sat down with Wang Yingge, marketing director at LONGi Solar on the sidelines of Renewable Energy India (REI) Expo 2019 to discuss market trends, opportunities, and challenges that they face.

How has the Indian market been for you in 2019?

Our global shipment target for this year for mono modules is 9.5 GW. Until 2018-19, our global production capacity was around 8.5-9 GW. But our sales were pretty high globally so we couldn’t sell a lot to India due to higher demand in other global markets. Traditionally, the demand in European and American markets for our modules is very high. But our global production capacity has now increased to 16 GW, and now we are the world’s largest module manufacturer, so going forward, we will have more quantity to supply to the Indian market.

What are some of the other attractive markets for you?

Europe and America are good markets for LONGi. Besides these markets, Australia is also an important market for us.

How much time do you think the Indian market needs to transition to Mono PERC?

In the first half of this year, the global mono market share was approximately 80%. Whereas, in India, the mono market share was over 20%. This figure is likely to increase to 50%. Going forward, our mono wafer capacity will be much larger. LONGi’s global mono wafer capacity target is 65 GW.

What are the unique challenges you see in the Indian market?

We have manufacturing units in many other countries, but our factory in India has not yet been finished. It’s still under discussion. Now, as far as the Indian market is concerned, we feel that lower price is the biggest challenge here as compared to other markets though our mono PERC products have their own value with the customers.

Can you tell us about the current trends you see in module prices?

The price of the mono wafer is relatively stable but may decline in the next year. Module and cell prices this year have been stable too. But next year, mono PERC prices are likely to come down as the manufacturing capacity has increased. On the other hand, poly market can’t last for long as poly suppliers won’t be able to make money because of their costs.

What are your expansion plans?

Our module capacity target for 2020 is 25 GW, and our capacity target for wafer is 65 GW. And for our expansion plans in India, we are currently discussing it with our local partner, but we have not yet decided because of the higher cost. So, that plan is currently on hold.

How do you think the year 2020 is going to be like for solar manufacturers?

The year 2020 is going to be full of competition. The top five manufacturers are likely to go bigger such as Longi, Jinko, and others. Other small manufacturers may not survive the next couple of years in this segment because of their finances and performance.

Can you tell us about the new technologies you are working on?

The first technology to talk about here is our mono PERC cell with an efficiency of 22.5%. Next year, we are planning on increasing efficiency to 23%.  Moreover, the current efficiency of mono modules is 19.5%., which is likely to be over 20% in the next year.  Then, for most of the utility-scale projects in the American and European markets, there is good demand for our bifacial modules. We have just launched our new Hi-MO 4 high-power bifacial module.

A few months ago, LONGi Solar announced its financial results for the first half (1H) of 2019. The company’s operating revenue in the 1H of 2019 reached ¥14.11 billion ($2.08 billion), a year-over-year (YoY) increase of approximately 41.1%. LONGi’s net profit stood at ¥2.01 billion ($296.46 million) in this period. The company attributed its performance to the “significant” growth in its overseas business because of its focus on monocrystalline modules. LONGi shipped monocrystalline modules of 2.4 GW capacity to international markets, an increase of 252% over the previous year.

Earlier this year, the company also launched its M6 (166mm) silicon wafer, which it claims can significantly improve the energy yield of cells and modules. LONGi claims that the product also helped to reduce manufacturing costs per watt and is expected to become the standard size of next-generation monocrystalline silicon wafers. LONGi also introduced a PERC module with half-cut cell technology, which is expected to reduce balance of system costs of solar projects.