Inside Taiwan’s PV manufacturing push

From this week’s PV Taiwan show, PV World’s Pete Singer reports how PV companies in Taiwan up and down the value chain, from polysilicon to inverters, have set their sights on high-value-add PV cell manufacturing, with production capacity expansions and well-defined ramp-up plans.

by Pete Singer, editorial director

October 28, 2010 – Of the five key components of the crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaics supply chain — polysilicon, wafer, cell, module, and inverter — many PV companies in Taiwan have set their sights on the high-value-add cell manufacturing. These companies have installed production capacity of 60-100MW or more, and have well-defined ramp up plans to bring more on-line in the next year, by adding to existing lines or building new facilities. Others are looking to become more vertically integrated, and have included module manufacturing capabilities in their portfolio, and even inverters.

Jay Meng-Chieh Wang, an analyst at the Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center (IEK), which is part of the ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute), said that he believes Taiwan is well-positioned to become the No.1 world supplier in the cell market. He envisions a scenario where Chinese PV companies with well-known brand names outsource the production of cells to Taiwan. “They will provide OEM service to brand companies,” he said. He noted that Taiwan presently has 5.3GW of installed cell capacity at more than 15 companies, and 1.2GW of installed module manufacturing capacity at another 15+ companies (see table).

Complete fabrication value chain. (Source: IEK)

China has already invested heavily in polysilicon production (the casting of silicon ingots) and PV wafers (where the ingots are cut into wafers with band- and wire-saws). Often with experience in LCD, semiconductor, LED, and CDROM manufacturing, Taiwanese companies are well-suited to take on the next step: cell manufacturing, where the blank wafer us turned into a PV cell through a series of doping, firing, metallization, and front-surface texturing steps. Module manufacturing is the final assembly step, where cells are connected by a tabber/stringer, attached to a glass surface, laminated with a backsheet and framed. A junction box finishes off the module.

The capabilities of Taiwanese companies in cell and module manufacturing have been bolstered by a government effort called the “Sunrise Project for Green Energy,” launched in April 2009. This effort is focused on improving cell efficiency, developing key materials, building equipment capacity, incubating international companies for PV system integration, and setting up strategies for global competition.

Cell capacity booming during 2010.  (Source: IEK)

One example of a Taiwanese company focused on the cell and module business is Kinmac Solar Corp. (formerly Lucky Power), based in Taouyan, which with the addition of two more lines will be at 100MW of production this year, according to Yawder Wang, director of business development. A key focus of the company is to provide assurance to customers that they can support the 25-year guarantee they offer by well-known shareholders, and partners up and down the supply chain. Major shareholders include Kinsus Interconnect, WIN Semiconductor Corp., and Zeus Computer. Inventec, which is already a partner as a supplier of wafers, is expected to become the major shareholder in the near future, he said. Other partners include SolarGia in the polysilicon area and Jinmao PV.

Wang said the company’s cell manufacturing line is 90% automated, and have well-known suppliers for all of the materials, including the cell, glass, EVA, backsheet, ribbon, silicone, junction box connector, and frame tape. “We use major name-brand materials from Germany, US, Japan, and Taiwan for best product quality and reliability,” he said. Kinmac also has the “most complete certification” portfolio of any company, and do wind, salt, thermal shock and vibration tests of the final product, as well as various inspections throughput the manufacturing process including incoming cell sorting and a final electroluminescence test.

“The PV market is huge,” Wang said. “Some care mostly about price, but some care very much about quality.”

Cell production shares per region — showing how the far East has become the main manufacturing base for PV. (Source: Photon, IEK/ITRI)

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