Blogs, Solar

Tour Trina Solar: Changzhou, China

Blogger “Solar Fred” recently toured Trina Solar’s new 4-block manufacturing, R&D, test, and headquarters campus in Changzhou, China. 13,000 people work here, making silicon photovoltaics panels for global use.

May 26, 2011 — Blogger “Solar Fred,” ne Tor Valenza and a member of the Renewable Energy World Network, recently toured Trina Solar’s new silion solar photovoltaics cell manufacturing plant in Changzhou, China, at the behest and expense of the company. Following are his impressions of the building and the company, as he sees what goes into making solar panels, what the jobs are like, and how Trina operates.

China’s goal is to install 10GW of solar PV by 2015 and the country has raised its installed 2020 target to 60GW, (previously 20GW). China may be the default leader in solar PV manufacturing capacity, but like America, it has a huge untapped market opportunity at home, as well as for the rest of the world, says Solar Fred, who saw very little installed solar (thermal or PV) on the buildings in Shanghai. However, heading out of the city, solar hot water collectors are visible on many older (about 10 year old perhaps) apartment buildings. Aside from light-pole installed PV panels, Solar Fred finds the PV side of things pretty barren. Much of the solar photovoltaics install demand comes from European countries, which could endanger China’s producers as Europe cuts back subsidies.

Two million people live in Changzhou, where Trina has contructed its new factory. 13,000 people work on the new solar cell fab campus. Trina is part of China’s new construction trend, expanding their manufacturing, as well as their R&D buildings, says Solar Fred.

The Trina Solar tour, excerpted from Solar Fred’s blog:

A freight elevator brings us down from the showroom to the factory floor level. Throughout the tour, we are able to see through a large glass window that shows each processing machine and the workers that man them, but we never actually get to go on the floor or see anything up close. A guide explains what each machine and worker does. Some workers notice us looking at them through the glass, but mainly remain focused on their tasks.

Click to Enlarge
Photo. Crystalline silicon ingots: the basis of silicon solar cells.

I wish I could have been able to take photos, as it not only would have helped to describe to you what we saw, but it would also give you the sense of how complicated manufacturing solar PV can be, from slicing the ingots, to producing cells, and assembling the panels that we all take for granted.

There’s a lot of validating and grading going on through the various stages. Some validations are performed by machines and others by humans, who are checking for tiny telltale flaws in the wafers or cells.

One of the machines we see is responsible for reducing reflections, so that cells capture more light and add to cell efficiencies. The proprietary process uses plasma enhanced chemical vapors to enhance the absorption of sunlight. It makes the cells only a little more efficient, but every bit counts, and that’s kind of the point of many of the processes we see.

Soldering cells together is done by some humans or automatically by machines. Trina is in the process of testing which method is most effective. Humans have an advantage of being able to act as an extra QC check, but the machines are faster. Are they more accurate and more cost effective than humans? Trina says this is to be determined in the future.

I sometimes feel like we’re in a high tech library. In addition to checking for flaws, workers do a lot of categorizing and stacking of cells into little slotted containers. Trina says they are trained to spot these flaws, and I wonder what features they are looking for when they see so many wafers and cells, every day, over and over again. 

Everyone is wearing masks and protective clothing. There are a lot of proprietary chemical processes and acid baths that wash the wafers. Of course, dust, human hair, etc on PV cells is a no-no, so the clothing serves two purposes.

In about 45 minutes and several elevator rides, we’ve seen the entire process, from slicing ingots to a completed solar module. We move on to Trina’s testing facility.

There are neat crisscrossed stacks of marked PV panels waiting to be tested. Again, we cannot take photographs, but the battery of test stations include all of the standard tests that comply with pretty much every certification agency in the world — plus some extra tests. There are temperature tests, hot spot tests, weight load tests, a simulated collision test for hurricane debris, an x-ray test, and many, many more testing stations.

If my notes are correct, about 1 in every 100 modules go through testing, in addition to some R&D testing. Any QC problems found can be traced back to the machine or even to the shift worker(s) who made the flawed wafer, cell, or panel.

For an overview of Trina Solar’s manufacturing process, see their website: http://www.trinasolar.com/products.php

Follow the entire China experience with Solar Fred’s blogs on the trip:

Follow Solar Fred to China:
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2011/05/follow-solar-fred-to-china

First impressions of Shanghai:
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2011/05/solar-fred-in-shanghai-first-impressions

The road to Changzhou:
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2011/05/solar-fred-in-china-the-road-to-changzhou

The tour:
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2011/05/solar-fred-in-china-the-trina-solar-factory-tour-impressive

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and public relations. He blogs on www.RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where these impressions were originally published.

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