Since their introduction in 2019, the 166mm and 210mm wafers pushed by two monocrystalline giants Longi and Zhonghuan, respectively, have attracted much attention. Investments in large-size wafer products continue as solar technology giants including Tongwei, JA Solar, Longi and Aikosolar have announced production expansion in 2020.
Although being heavily promoted by advocates, the 166mm and 210mm products are getting lukewarm reception from the market so far. Downstream solar project enterprises are prudent in product selection, and module manufacturers are also cautious when it comes to upgrading their production lines. This in turn has limited the large-scale application of 166mm and 210mm products so far. It will take time for the new size products to penetrate the market.
Orders for modules with 158.75mm cells are booming
Production capacity has been gradually restored as the Chinese authorities work hard to get the coronavirus outbreak under control. Solar companies are speeding up the delivery of modules to fulfill the orders.
“In the first half of 2020, the majority of the orders received are for the 158.75mm series.” Marketing director of Risen Eneregy, Zhuang Yinghong revealed. Market survey indicated that leading module manufacturers including Jinko, JA Solar, Trina Solar, Risen Energy, are the key suppliers of the 158.75mm products in the first half of 2020, which validates the popularity of 158.75mm size.
Compared with other larger-size products such as 166mm and 210mm, the 158.75mm product is relatively low-profile, but has significant competitive advantages in the market.
The two differentiating factors that put it in a favorable competitive position are its high cost performance and low production line retrofitting cost, which power station owners and manufacturing enterprises care about.
An anonymous member of an electric power design institute commented, “Power station owners actually do not care much about the size of the modules. They are more concerned about the installed capacity and economic benefits.” Their module choices are not influenced by the market or investors’ pursuit for new technologies. It is the actual benefits of power stations that matters most to them.
In terms of cost, when comparing modules with 156.75mm cells and those with 158.75mm cells, “158.75 modules” (modules with 158.75mm cells) are manufactured with a slight increase in wafer cost, but a decrease in both cell and module costs.
The high compatibility of the production line of “158.75 module” makes it more advantageous by enabling it superimposed with half-cell and multi-busbar technologies. Take the simulation application of regular mono PERC 385Wp module and JA Solar 9BB half-cell 410Wp module as an example. As 9BB half-cell module greatly raises power output, the number of modules needed to build a 50MW project is reduced from 129,900 to 121,900, decreasing the occupied area by 3.25%, reducing the installation cost by 6.40% and lowering BOS cost by 4.95%.
Moreover, the main changes of the 158.75mm cell production line are in automation equipment and fixtures. In the module part, while the size of EVA, back sheet and glass need to be increased, other parts remain unchanged. Overall, the retrofitting cost of 158.75mm products including the links of wafers, cells and modules is the lowest compared with that of 166mm and 210mm, which is also a driving factor for enterprises to actively switch production lines to manufacture 158.75 modules.
According to the statistics of PVInfoLink, most enterprises have basically completed the retrrofitting to 158.75mm production line, and the production line of 158.75mm cells takes as much as 89% of the market.
Large-scale supply of 166 and 210 Modules is still some way off
For 166mm and 210mm products, matching design at the system side is particularly important. “There are a few systems supporting the application of “166 modules” (modules with 166mm cells), but there is no system designed for 210 modules (modules with 210mm cells) yet.” The above mentioned electric power design institute said that the lack of matching devices in the system side brings resistance for the large-scale application and promotion of the products.
In terms of the production line, when compared with the 158.75mm products, the upgrading progress and customer preference of the 166mm and 210mm series are still in the dark. This makes it impossible for those two larger sizes to overtake 158.75mm in a short period of time.
To manufacture 166mm cells, much investment and time is needed to achieve automation renovation, purchase tubular PERC cell coating equipment and other auxiliary equipment. In the module part, series welding machines, stitch welding machines, laminating machines, framing machines, as well as the assembly line need to be upgraded. It would result in a loss of 20% if it’s upgraded from production line of 156.75 mm products. In addition, manufacturers who have just completed the conversion to 158.75mm products will not switch to larger sizes if the market demand is not strong.
For modules with 210mm cells, all machines have to be adjusted, so a new production line need to be built. According to cell producers, it usually takes 10-12 months to build a new cell production line if everything goes well. As such, despite the enthusiasm for 166mm and 210mm products in the market, it takes some time to achieve mass production. According to PVInfoLink, G1(158.75mm) wafers will account for 60% and M6 (166mm) for 13% of the market in 2020.
In March 2020, cell giant Tongwei Solar lowered the price of mono PERC 166mm cells to 1 yuan/W, the same price with mono PERC 158.75mm cells, which may stimulate the demand for 166mm cells. There is also speculation in the industry that since the main buyer of 166mm cell is Longi, this price change may be related to the low demand for 166mm products.
It is very clear that 166mm and 210mm are the future trend. In the first half of this year, the production lines of cell manufacturers Tongwei Solar and Aiko Solar have been upgraded to be compatible with 210mm cells, and Risen Energy and Trina Solar have put the mass production of the “210 modules” in their technology roadmap. JA Solar’s “10GW high-efficiency cell +10GW high-efficiency module” project in Yiwu will be compatible with the 210mm products. All major module manufacturers are preparing for the adoption of large-size products.
As the design of “210 module” is quite different from that of regular modules, and customer acceptance is not clear, the 158.75mm products still enjoys popularity in the market for some time with its advantages of low production line retrofitting cost and high cost performance, and the status is not easy to be shaken.