Solar power is the fastest growing source of electricity generation globally and has been replacing the conventional sources of energy across countries. At the end of 2018, global solar PV installations reached 500 MW and analysts expect the capacity to soon hit 500 GW. This transformation from “old” to “new” sources of energy has been achieved not just because of government and corporate sustainability targets, but also due to a sharp drop in panel prices accompanied with greater efficiencies and technology innovations in recent years. These cost and performance efficiencies in turn have been a result of large scale manufacturing set-ups and research and development (R&D) efforts of equipment manufacturers.
Established in 2000, LONGi Solar is one such player which is driving the transformation through its R&D investments, technological innovation and equipment standardisation efforts. In 2013, LONGi released the M1 and M2 monocrystalline silicon wafers that unified silicon wafer sizes with five leading monocrystalline silicon wafer manufacturers. At that time, M2 wafers could boost module output by 5 Wp or more without increasing the overall size of 60-cell modules. Such a significant improvement in cost per Watt had enabled M2 to be listed among the mainstream products and it stayed on top for many years to come. After the release, it took six quarters to complete the standardisation process and the new silicon wafer standard was eventually included in the SEMI standard. These standards were included in the CMI International Standards Directory in August 2017. Having established three dedicated R&D centres for wafers, cells and modules, in 2018, LONGi obtained 526 patents. Further, in November 2018, CTC National Inspection Group certified LONGi as the leader in the power attenuation rate of photovoltaic components. After outdoor natural aging tests, the average degradation rate of LONGi photovoltaic module was 0.38 per cent in the first year, 0.32 per cent in the second year and 0.36 per cent in the third year, ranking first amongst monocrystalline modules.
A fully integrated player manufacturing ingots, wafer, cells and modules, LONGi also focuses on downstream energy services to be a customer-engaged and responsive equipment supplier. Its current manufacturing capacity of ingot/wafer, cells and modules is 36 GW, 10 GW and 16 GW, respectively, lends it significant economies of scale. By end-2020, the company plans to expand the capacity of its ingot/wafer production to 50 GW, cell production to 15 GW and module to 25 GW. By end-2021, the capacity is planned to be expanded to 65 GW, 20 GW and 30 GW, respectively.
Leading the change
LONGi has always believed in the idea of using standardised products to further reduce the upstream and downstream costs of the industry chain, boosting the technological progress and industrial upgrading of the PV industry. In continuation of these efforts, the company recently launched its M6 wafers and Hi-MO4 bifacial modules.
The M6 silicon wafers of LONGi has a margin of 166 mm and a diameter of 223 mm. The upgrade of the M6 silicon wafers’ specification allows the product to have a larger light-capture area, which can increase the power of cells and modules, and the manufacturing cost per watt is reduced. M6 monocrystalline silicon wafers has been priced at 3.47 yuan/piece but compared with M2 silicon wafers, the price of M6 is only 0.4 yuan higher. From the perspective of cost per watt, M6 is equivalent to M2. Moreover, compared with the silicon wafers of 158.75 size, M6 offers an 8.8 per cent increase in output power. Therefore, with M6, the procurement cost of silicon wafers is reduced by 4 per cent per watt.
LONGi’s existing crystal pulling and slicing processes are compatible with M6 which has ensured the mass production and supply of M6 silicon wafers in 2019. The company’s scale of production is expected to reduce the price premium of M6 vs M2 silicon wafers to less than 0.2 yuan.
For cell manufacturers, they can achieve higher profits with M6 monocrystalline silicon wafers. The new cell production line is compatible with M6. However, the old production line needs to be upgraded to fit this new product and the transformation cost can be controlled. Already, many cell companies have expressed their approval and support for this new product and have placed large-scale orders.
Meanwhile, LONGi’s Hi-MO 4 bifacial modules deploy upgraded PERC technology based on 6 busbars, with cell efficiency reaching 22.5 per cent. While the front-side power of Hi-MO3 is 380 W (72 cells), that of Hi-MO4 is 440 W. With M6 mono crystalline wafers,
Hi-MO 4 modules configured with 72 cells can achieve a size of 430 W. Compared with conventional polycrystalline power station systems, the balance of system (BoS) cost using Hi-MO 4 bifacial modules is 0.21 yuan per watt. Coupled with an increase of power generation by 10 per cent and average annual degradation of less than 0.45 per cent, the value advantage of using these modules can reach 0.8 yuan per watt, significantly reducing the cost of electricity. Technology experts have termed this as a significant breakthrough in the solar PV space.
With increasing applications of bifacial technology in advanced systems worldwide, LONGi high-efficiency modules, with leading monocrystalline technology, have been widely used in large-scale ground-mount projects globally. Going forward, growth in bifacial demand will continue to accelerate, taking global market to 5.42 GW by end-2019 and over 21 GW by 2024 – close to a ten-fold increase compared to 2018. Industry experts believe that by 2024, over 17 per cent of PV modules installations worldwide will be bifacial.
Already the current indicated order for Hi-MO 4 has exceeded 2 GW. LONGi is also actively upgrading its production line projecting the demand to increase significantly in the coming quarters.
Sound financials ensure strong growth
According to industry sources, LONGi accounted for 40 per cent of the industry’s monocrystalline silicon wafer capacity in 2018, reinforcing its position as the largest monocrystalline module manufacturer in the world. Listed as Tier I manufacturer by BNEF, LONGi’s cell and module shipment ranked number one in the world according to Global Data and PV-Tech. Driven by strong demand for its products and services, LONGi’s revenue in 2018 was CNY21.988 billion, an increase of 34.38 per cent over the previous year and net profit was CNY2.558 billion. Not just last year but LONGi Solar’s revenues have grown steadily over the last three years, in a sustainable manner that ensures product quality and financial standing are not compromised.
Summing up, led by continuous R&D investment, LONGi Solar has made remarkable technological progress. The technological breakthroughs like M6 and Hi-MO 4 will gradually be incorporated into large-scale production of LONGi Solar products. Further, growing revenue and margins will help it maintain one of the leading financial strengths amongst its industry peers.