As the p-type cell technology can hardly go any further in conversion efficiency, its n-type counterpart receives growing attention across the solar industry. The capex for the n-type technology is falling, thanks to the rising penetration of Chinese production equipment for the technology and its ever-improving defect-free rates. But it remains to be seen whether new n-type production lines will be built this year.
Falling n-type production costs
Solar equipment makers in China are increasingly focused on TOPCon and heterojunction (HJT), driving down the cost of production equipment for both technologies. It now costs RMB 300 to 350 million (USD 43 to 50 million) in production equipment to yield 1 GW of TOPCon cells. That compares with RMB 180 to 230 million (USD 26 to 33 million) for p-PERC cells. Moreover, TOPCon cells have improved in quality (for every ten such cells produced, nine come with no defects, versus eight before 2019), which helps to bring down their manufacturing costs further.
Meanwhile, the cost of production cost for HJT cells has come down to RMB 650 to 750 million (USD 93 to 100 million) per gigawatt. Not to mention when it comes to per-watt production cost. GS Solar, for example, produces such cells at as low as RMB 1.5/W (USD 0.22/W), the world's lowest.
More production capacity to expand for TOPCon than HJT
Chinese manufacturers are going to build new n-type cell production lines this year. TOPCon cells, in particular, may occupy a proportionally higher share of the total than HJT ones—not just because their manufacturing costs are just a little higher than those of p-PERC cells but because new p-PERC production lines to be built by Tier-1 vertically integrated makers have been earmarked for an upgrade to TOPCon. So far, 5 to 8 GW of TOPCon capacity expansion plans has been announced.
By contrast, many new HJT production capacity plans have yet got off the ground for reasons such as technical issues. Orders for HJT cells were limited in numbers, although GS Solar has received a 345-MW order for a utility-scale PV project in China.
N-type products gaining ground in emerging markets
N-type products find stronger demand in emerging markets such as the Middle East and Brazil, as developers in these regions have begun to see benefits of n-type modules for their advantages in the high temperature conditions, such as lower temperature coefficients and higher power generation performance than p-type modules. This May, Jolywood has supplied 458 MW of TOPCon bifacial modules to Oman for a 575 MW project. In addition, HJT bifacial modules are used in a Kazakhstan-based 100-MW solar park.
N-type demand weakens
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the world, overall module demand has been delayed since PV projects and auction timelines were postponed. This may lead to lower demand level for n-type this year in the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, two of the major markets for such product. Even when the pandemic subsides, the demand would remain modest at best.
Be cautiously optimistic
While n-type production costs are going down, the development of n-type this year depends on whether new n-type production lines will ever come to materialize and, for that matter, whether n-type can catch up with p-PERC in price competitiveness and conversion efficiency. Moreover, even if this year’s n-type capacity expansion plans do all come to fruition, every year n-type products would only retain a 4%–7% market share at best. And since p-PERC products enjoy better cost performance, greater production capacity, and higher conversion efficiency, there is still some way to go before n-type ones can generate healthy profits.