Photovoltaic-aways: Solar module manufacturers share 7 insights on PV market trends in 2019

solar module manufacturing

For our 2019 Module Buyer’s Guide (included in the Jan/Feb issue of Solar Builder magazine) we rounded up profiles on the newest modules on the market and also surveyed solar module manufacturers on the trends they are seeing and some of the new technology to watch. The seven insights are below, and you can check out the new products here.

1. Mono PERC power

Passivated Emitter Rear Cell (PERC) is a photovoltaic design that increases light capture efficiency by adding a passivation film at the rear end of the cell to capture scattered and reflected light. An obvious benefit of PERC technology is that it allows for high-power modules, and the more power a module produces, the more money that can be saved by reducing overall BOS costs. Using high-power modules can mean fewer panels, less racking, wiring, combiner boxes and reduced labor hours.

One step further, half-cut cells have reduced resistive losses, which makes them capable of boosting power output by another 5 to 15 W per module depending on the cell type. The shift to monocrystalline solar modules is accelerating faster than expected, with mono PERC to witness the largest market share increase. In 2017, half-cut cell solar panels took 11 percent of the global module capacity, and this share is expected to rise to around 35 percent by 2020.

2. Bifacial boost

The buzziest of buzzy PV module technology right now is some combination of mono PERC and half-cut cells with the innovative application of bifacial module design.

“Recent projects incorporating this combination dropped levelized cost of electricity so rapidly that the biggest barrier to grid parity for utility-scale photovoltaic plants is not the cost of technology but rather the soft costs related to grid integration, land, labor and legal fees,” LONGi Solar tells us, which has broken world records for PERC cell and module technology eight times since September 2017. “Better, more efficient products on the market will free up resources for other types of innovation in the solar industry.”

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DNV GL, the world’s largest resource of independent energy experts and certification body, was just selected to receive a $200,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to research bifacial PV technology.

“The aim of the study is to accelerate commercial deployment of bifacial PV modules at scale,” says Tara Doyle, head of business development for DNV GL’s PV module testing lab [now PVEL]. “If proven viable through extensive performance and reliability testing, bifacial PV modules have the potential to become the preferred technology for ground-mounted PV installations around the world.”

The project will entail the collection of field data over the course of one year at DNV GL’s outdoor solar test facility in Davis, Calif. It will include bifacial and monofacial 1500V PV modules provided by LONGi Solar, Astronergy Solar, Hanwha Q CELLS and Trina Solar, tested on single-axis trackers provided by solar tracking company NEXTracker, and two albedo ground types. Data acquisition will be highly granular, using actively calibrated equipment. The collected measurements will be used to generate PAN files and subsequent energy simulations using PVsyst.

3. Economics over efficiency

Counter to the half-cut movement is the idea that chasing that extra bit of efficiency juice isn’t worth the squeeze, so to speak. Silfab Solar is taking a different approach, believing the tinkering with the glass size and cell cut of conventional mono and mono PERC technologies won’t result in enough efficiency gains. Instead, Silfab is focusing on the adoption of next generation technologies that could allow material gains in module wattage while maintaining attractive price points, such as metal wrap through (MWT) and interdigitated back contact (IBC).

Silfab says the practice of leading with a high priced premium brand and following up with a low price economy brand in price-conscious situations can lead to reduced revenues and margins.

“There are price effective premium brands that allow EPCs to standardize on a single module partner, recognize better revenues in cost-conscious scenarios (like larger system sizes) and recognize better margins on the remainder of the system in terms of premium value/wattage without premium pricing,” Silfab tells us.

4. Lifetime value

Efficiency numbers in lab conditions and coming out of the box get the biggest headlines, but for an investment that degrades over its 25-year lifetime, it’s not the most impactful metric on its own. Other module lifetime considerations such as warranty terms, temperature coefficients and degradation rates are now winning the day in many segments but especially in residential. EPCs and installers that only look at one facet, such as price or rated DC capacity, are doing themselves and their customers a disservice. While those factors are important, selling certainty over 25 years is more valuable overall.

“Often we hear from our customers that they made the mistake of only looking at the price per watt when choosing a PV module,” notes the team at Trina Solar. “Then they found that they had increased operations and maintenance costs down the road, and that the company they had bought from is no longer around to honor the warranty. Unit cost is important to consider, but if you neglect to look at things like performance, quality standards and company bankability, you may end up paying for it later.”

5. Reduced degradation

Pay attention to that temperature coefficient and light induced degradation (LID) rate because these are huge factors in the actual energy generated throughout a day and over a project’s useful life. Initial field tests carried out by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) have shown that n-type cell technology, specifically REC’s new N-Peak, reduces LID to zero, meaning no power loss right after installation. This provides improved performance in shaded conditions and allows flexible installation options. Similarly, Panasonic’s HIT n-type solar cells have extremely low LID and zero potential induced degradation (PID). Panasonic’s technology reduces annual degradation to 0.26 percent compared to 0.70 percent in conventional panels. This is why Panasonic guarantees a minimum 90.76 percent rated power output after 25 years.

In 2018, SunPower hit the industry’s lowest solar panel degradation rate, according to a calculation method developed in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). When this method was applied to eight years of energy performance data from 264 SunPower solar systems operating at various locations worldwide, it proved that SunPower panels degrade at a median rate of 0.2 percent per year. The company’s P-Series solar panels will soon to be manufactured in America.

6. Aesthetics

Value is often in the eye of the beholder, and as residential solar adoption widens and as the new build market explodes in California, aesthetics of rooftop panels will matter more and more. This is why all of the top residential module manufacturers now have an all-black version of their flagship product, which are often priced a tad higher.

Similarly, thin-film PV could be on the upswing in the U.S. residential solar sector. Swedish solar energy company Midsummer reports that it has received an order from Sunflare for equipment for the production of thin film solar cells worth over $7 million. Midsummer’s DUO system is one of the most widely distributed manufacturing tools for flexible CIGS solar cells in the world. Sunflare, with global headquarters in La Verne, Calif., is a provider of flexible mass-produced thin film solar products that are especially suitable for weak roofs and new roofs for private homes.

“The demand for our products in the U.S. has exceeded our expectations and we rapidly need to expand our production capacity with the help of our established partner Midsummer,” says Philip Gao, CEO of Sunflare.

7. Tariffs

The administration imposed steep import tariffs on virtually all crystalline silicon based solar modules in 2018. Additionally, many of the other materials used in solar panels now also face duties as part of a 10 percent levy on about $200 billion worth of Chinese goods that went into effect in September. The tax on these imports was expected to rise to 25 percent on Jan. 1, 2019, adding additional burden even to U.S.-made solar modules.

Finished solar panels require scores of components, ranging from aluminum framing to transformers, solar glass and power inverters. Solaria’s CEO Suvi Sharma estimates that U.S. tariffs this year have increased the company’s U.S. production costs by about 30 percent — an amount equal to the original U.S. solar panel import duty.

As a consequence of the tariffs, Solaria abandoned its plans of boosting production this year at its plant in Fremont, Calif. Due to capital expenditures imposed by the tariffs, the company was unable to expand its workforce in the U.S. as planned.

LG does not manufacture cells or modules in China, but it too was impacted by the tariffs in 2018. In response to this the company is committed to establishing a 500-MW production facility in Huntsville, Ala. Although this was in the works prior to the announcement of the tariffs, due to the strong market demand from the U.S. and LG’s desire to be closer to its customers, the tariffs certainly accelerated the process. The first modules manufactured in Huntsville will be rolling out in Q1 this year.

— Solar Builder magazine

REC Group just doubled its solar panel warranties, improved power guarantees

REC Solar N-Peak

REC Group, the largest European brand for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, announced new product and power warranties on its REC TwinPeak and REC N-Peak high performance solar panels. Applicable to all deliveries since October 1, 2018, REC has doubled the product warranty duration from 10 to 20 years across the range, and reduced the annual power degradation of the panel.

New product warranty

Extending coverage to a full 20 years for all products, REC Group now offers one of the best product warranties among its tier 1 competitors.

New power degradation warranty

The power warranty now guarantees REC customers even less degradation over the full 25-year duration. Under the new terms, first-year degradation is reduced from 3% to 2.5% for all REC TwinPeak products – with the new REC N-Peak solar panel, released last year, already having a first-year degradation of just 2%.

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Moreover, in years 2 to 25, the warranted annual power loss is improved from 0.7% to 0.5% for all REC 72-cell solar panels that feature REC’s unique frame design. As a result, the final warranted power output increases to at least 85.5% after 25 years of operation.

Added benefits for REC Solar Professionals

Beyond these new terms, REC now offers an extra 5-year product warranty for installations carried out by REC-certified Solar Professionals, meaning they can now give end-customers 25-year coverage. REC Solar Professionals undergo a training program to ensure best practice – which means their expertise and skills help ensure the long-term quality and reliable production of an installation.

“REC’s new warranty, which now ranks as one of the best in the industry, is a testament to our consistent excellent product and performance quality,” says Cemil Seber, Vice President Global Marketing & Product Management at REC Group. “The extended warranty terms for REC Solar Professionals further demonstrate our strong commitment to building and maintaining long-term alliances with our partners who install and maintain installations with our panels around the world.”

— Solar Builder magazine

REC Group launches two new monocrystalline PV modules with extended warranty

TP 2S Mono 72_silver_lowrez

TwinPeak 2S Mono 72 Silver

REC Group, the largest European brand for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, announced the production start of two new monocrystalline products based on its award winning TwinPeak technology.

Using p-type monocrystalline PERC cells, the 60-cell TwinPeak 2 Mono is rated up to 320 Wp and the 72-cell TwinPeak 2S Mono 72 up to 380 Wp. The new panels bring heightened efficiency to REC’s portfolio and will be the company’s first products to come with a new, extended warranty.

Building on REC’s long experience with half-cut cell technology, the new mono products offer increased power output per square meter and improved performance in shaded conditions. This makes the REC TwinPeak 2 Mono a solid choice for residential and small commercial rooftop installations where high power is required in limited space. The larger, but at 22 kg still lightweight, REC TwinPeak 2S Mono 72 enables large commercial and utility installations to benefit from the lower balance of system costs inherent in this format.

Order volumes for the new panels are already buoyant, early evidence of the clear product benefits and REC’s continued position as a leader for half-cut PERC cell technology. REC Group was the first manufacturer to introduce half-cut cell solar panels to mass production in 2014. To date, more than 2 GW of REC TwinPeak solar panels with half-cut cells have been installed around the globe.

“For two decades, REC Group has been continuously pushing the boundaries of solar cell technology. With the launch of TwinPeak in 2014, we were the first to commercialize half-cut cell technology. Following on from the launch of the N-Peak earlier this year, we are now transferring our years of expertise into mono-PERC products,” says Steve O’Neil, CEO at REC Group.

The new products come just four months after REC began production of its brand-new N-Peak Series – the world’s first n-type mono solar panel with half-cut cells and twin design. As with the N-Peak, the new mono products are manufactured at REC’s production site in Singapore.

TwinPeaks at a glance

• Up to 320 Wp for the 60-cell, up to 380 Wp for the 72-cell panel
• TwinPeak 2S Mono 72 available in 1500 volt
• REC’s new premium warranty: doubling the product warranty duration from 10 to 20 years; 0.5% annual degradation over 25-year power warranty for 72-cell panel, 0.7% for the 60-cell version
• 120 or 144 half-cut monocrystalline PERC cells
• 100% PID free
• At 22 kg, industry-leading lightweight 72-cell panel, yet robust construction thanks to REC’s unique frame structure
• Improved performance in shaded conditions
• Lower balance of system costs

— Solar Builder magazine

Largest landfill solar project in U.S. procures REC Solar panels

Annapolis Solar Park, Maryland, US_Sep 2018_2_lowrez

REC Group, the leading European brand for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, is powering the Annapolis Solar Park in Annapolis, Md. Designed and constructed by EDF Renewables Distributed Solutions, the 18.1 MW large system is expected to generate 24,000 MWh annually, enough to power 2,200 average US households.

The installation with REC TwinPeak 2S 72-cell solar panels at 345Wp was energized in June 2018. A subsidiary of Building Energy, a multinational IPP in the renewable energy industry is the owner of the project.

According to the EPA, the Annapolis Renewable Energy Park is the largest closed landfill solar project in North America. It covers 80 acres of previously unusable landfill with REC’s award-winning TwinPeak panels with half-cut PERC cells.

“The Annapolis solar installation is a remarkable example of how communities can convert a formerly unusable landfill property into a powerhouse supplier of clean energy that creates also hundreds of new jobs,” comments Cary Hayes, President of REC Americas LLC proudly.

“Likewise, old coal mine areas offer an opportunity to switch to clean solar energy. Considering the fact that the retirement of outdated coal power plants in the U.S. continues rapidly due to decreasing economics, connected coal mines have the chance for a ‘second life’ by being converted to solar parks,” Hayes adds. According to the Sierra Club, since 2010, 274 coal-fired power plants have been retired in the U.S. or are proposed to be retired by a specific date.

— Solar Builder magazine

REC Group shows off new N-Peak solar panel at Intersolar Europe

REC N-Peak Lauch Event at Intersolar Europe 2018

REC Group, the leading European brand for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, launched its brand-new N-Peak high-performance solar panel at Intersolar Europe in Munich. The new panel breaks fresh ground for REC and the industry: this is the first solar panel to combine n-type mono half-cut cells with a twin-panel design, and promises excellent power output of up to 330 watt peak allied to lasting performance.

The production of n-type mono cells kicks off at the end of June in REC’s brand-new industry 4.0 manufacturing building at the company’s Singapore plant. The first N-Peak modules are scheduled to roll off the line in August.

The REC N-Peak Series builds on the success of REC’s multiple award-winning TwinPeak technology. Already recognized by an Intersolar award in 2015, REC is well-known for being a pioneer for half-cut cells and its twin panel design.

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Key highlights of the new N-Peak

· REC’s most powerful 60-cell module ever
· The world’s first solar module to combine n-type mono half-cut cells with a twin-panel design
· Mono n-type is the most efficient crystalline silicon technology
· Up to 330 watt peak
· Super-strong frame design: for loads of up to 7000 Pa
· Zero light-induced degradation
· 12-year product warranty and 0.5% annual degradation over 25-year power warranty, resulting in 86% of nameplate power after 25 years
· Improved performance in shaded conditions
· Flexible installation options

— Solar Builder magazine