Makers are sourcing cells overseas or producing these in-house to meet demand.
Solar panel suppliers in China are adjusting procurement and manufacturing systems to ensure they have enough silicon cells. In doing so, suppliers hope to grab a larger share of the expanding market for PV modules despite a domestic shortage of refined silicon required for cell production.
Responding to rising demand, the country's panel output is anticipated to reach 10 to 12GW this year, an increase of over 40 percent from the estimated 7GW yield in 2010. Global support for new energy industries and expanding applications of the line are spurring consumption domestically and overseas.
PV silicon suppliers in China, however, can meet only 30 percent of the industry's requirement as annual capacity currently does not exceed 8GW. There are just about 20 companies in operation, as opposed to the 400-strong module industry, because of the large investment required. The starting capital for producing silicon that meets PV specifications is roughly $10 million, while an enterprise venturing into solar panel manufacturing needs only $1 million.
Due to the demand-supply gap, imported PV silicon now costs less than domestic versions. The former ranges from $1.10 to $1.80 per watt, while some US-based providers offer variants at $0.90 to $1.
Consequently, most solar panel makers are going beyond China in sourcing cells. Besides the US, many procure from Japan and Germany.
Some suppliers are addressing the shortage by moving upstream. Yongkang Xingguang Electrical Manufacture Co. Ltd, for instance, is investing more than $2 million in a factory that will roll out 20 to 30MW of solar silicon wafers annually. The plant is expected to become operational this year.
PV panel suppliers are optimistic they will be able to sustain double-digit sales growth in coming months. Yongkang Xingguang sees revenue and output increasing 500 percent. Jinhua Dokio Technology Co. Ltd is anticipating an 80 percent surge, while Zhejiang RDM Technology Co. Ltd expects the upswing to reach 50 percent.
Crystalline panels dominate
R&D work on solar panels is geared toward enhancing efficiency, extending service life and widening the operating temperature range.
Compared with models two years ago, recent releases have a conversion rate of 16 percent or higher. Jinhua Dokio, for example, offers a monocrystalline unit that is 16.83 percent efficient. Its DSP180W module is fitted with 72 cells.
Zhejiang RDM's selection comprises monocrystalline panels with a conversion rate of 17 percent. The company also offers polycrystalline modules with efficiency ratings of 16.4 and 16.8 percent.
At Zhejiang Fengsheng Electrical Co. Ltd, the selection constitutes mono- and polycrystalline modules that are 17 percent efficient. One of these, the FS-230 model, can generate 230W and has a rated power tolerance of 3 percent. It complies with several international standards, including IEC 61215.
As regards service life, most PV panels from China can now last 25 years. Previously, two decades was the common specification.
Meanwhile, to meet varying application requirements, operating temperature range has been improved from
Mono- and polycrystalline silicon models account for the bulk of China's total solar panel output.
Monocrystalline variants generally have higher conversion efficiencies than polycrystalline units. Depending on the purity of the silicon crystal, ratings for the first line range from 15 to 18 percent, while levels for polycrystalline versions are at 14 to 17 percent.
Both types usually employ 125x125 or 156x156mm cells with a working voltage of roughly 0.5V. These are laminated onto a back sheet that is often made of TPT, and encased in an aluminum frame with a 10Î¼m-thick oxide layer. The assembly is covered by a tempered glass, which is about 3.2mm-thick and has a transmission rate exceeding 90 percent for 320 to 1,100nm wavelengths.
Crystalline modules from China typically have a rated power output of at least 75W. Designs capable of generating 300W or more are available.
Units go for $1.50 to $2 per watt, depending mainly on the specifications of the cells.
Jinhua Dokio Technology Co. Ltd
Zhejiang Jiu Tai New Energy Co. Ltd
Model: JTM 185-72M
Zhejiang RDM Technology Co. Ltd
Zhejiang RDM Technology Co. Ltd
Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
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