After falling 15 percent in 2012, solar photovoltaic wafer production is forecast to grow 19 percent in 2013, passing 30 GW and recovering to the 2011 level, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly. However, industry utilization is expected to remain below 60 percent, and while prices have stopped falling, no significant increases are expected, so profitability for wafer makers will remain challenging.
Multicrystalline silicon (multi c-Si) technology is forecast to continue its dominance of the wafer market in the short to mid-term. However, the higher efficiency solar cells that can be produced using monocrystalline silicon (mono c-Si) wafers continue to be in demand for applications where space is restricted. The higher efficiencies enable pricing at a premium over standard multi c-Si modules. In particular, rapid growth in the Japanese market is creating demand for premium efficiency modules that use mono c-Si wafers.
Figure 1: Crystalline Silicon (c-Si) Wafer Production Forecast by Technology
Source: NPD Solarbuzz Q1’13 Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly
Supported by attractive solar PV incentive rates, Japan will account for more than 10 percent of global PV demand in 2013. With a strong rooftop segment and limitations on the availability of land for large-scale ground-mount installations, Japan has now become a key driver for mono c-Si based modules.
However, for mono c-Si wafers to increase market share compared to multi c-Si wafers, improvements in mono ingot production and module efficiencies will be required. Multi c-Si wafer manufacturers are constantly improving casting approaches and developing new high-efficiency multi-wafers. Leading wafer manufacturers are now selling high-efficiency multi c-Si wafers with efficiencies as high as 18 percent, which is in the range of low end mono c-Si wafers, and thus helps maintain the competitiveness of multi c-Si based products.
In the long term, n-type mono c-Si wafers and enhanced mono performance supported by advanced cell designs and manufacturing have the potential to lower total costs per watt and enable faster growth of the mono c-Si wafer market. Assuming the success of these technologies, NPD Solarbuzz forecasts that mono c-Si cell production will grow at a faster rate than multi c-Si cells beginning in 2015, expanding into more applications and increasing market share.