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26 November 2020

Heterojunction contributes to revival of Europe’s solar manufacturing

Europe is set to see a partial revival of its solar industry, and perhaps 25 GW of new manufacturing capacity could come online by 2025. In the face of the cost-efficient Chinese imports which dominate the market today, these new plants will rely on a technological edge, plus lower transportation costs as Europe’s demand rises rapidly.

Heterojunction will be a central new technology in new plants through to 2024, after which tandem perovskites from the likes of Oxford PV will pick up, as well as even more novel ideas such as organic solar cells. As for rising demand, Europe’s newly installed capacity has increased from the nadir of 5.5 GW in 2017, to 8 GW in 2018 and then 16 GW in 2019, with a further increase this year as many national markets including Poland, Germany and France show major expansion. Some markets such as France, the UK and Italy are coming back to life after years of stagnation.

Singapore’s REC Group announced a new 4 GW heterojunction cell and module manufacturing plant last week, to be built in Hambach, France, with the first phase to come online in 2022 and full scale to be reached in 2025. One motive here is France’s new tendering rules from 2019, which grant a fixed tariff to solar projects which use innovative technology; the country’s energy plans will see annual solar additions pass 2 GW and then 3 GW in the first half of the new decade.

On a longer timeframe, Oxford PV will reach GW scale production of its perovskite tandems in 2024, in its Brandenburg facilities, with 10 GW as its next target after that. No matter what scale and cost-efficiency Chinese products reach, they won’t be able to beat the solar efficiency of Oxford PV’s tandem perovskite product, which will start at 27% and gain maybe 1% per year over the decade – a technological edge that won’t be blunted any time soon – although it could be licensed as a technology to the Chinese.

As for the “25 GW by 2025” figure, this is the target that’s been mentioned by companies participating in the “Solar Manufacturing Accelerator”, a co-ordinating initiative launched by SolarPower Europe six months ago. SolarPower Europe draws its board of directors from global and regional solar companies – Enel, Trina Solar, LONGi, First Solar, and so on. The association previously called for the end of Europe’s Minimum Import Price on Chinese imports, which was indeed ended in 2018.

Besides Oxford PV and REC Group, the initiative mentions manufacturing plans including Hungary’s Genuine Europe Solar’s 2 GW bifacial by 2022 – the company began with 100 MW heterojunction capacity using Meyer Burger tools this summer; Enel subsidiary 3Sun and its 3.3 GW bifacial heterojunction (HJT) manufacturing planned for 2024; the “5 GW Green Fab” of PERC and Interdigitated Back Contact (IBC) cell capacity for 2023 headed by RCT solutions; and a host of more speculative startups.

REC and Oxford PV are the two most notable, along with Meyer Burger, which was briefly the partner of REC and still is working with Oxford PV.

Meyer Burger has been a prominent solar equipment maker for a long time, and when the rest of Europe’s solar industry got undercut by China, it continued selling its equipment to the Chinese manufacturers. Recently however its margins there have come under pressure, pushing it to form partnerships with Oxford PV and REC Group, in a pivot toward Europe and its own solar cell and module manufacturing, featuring proprietary SmartWire technology. It will have 400 MW online in the middle of next year, and plans for 5 GW by 2026, having acquired a disused factory from SolarWorld, whose German subsidiaries declared bankruptcy in 2017. As Meyer Burger has observed, Germany’s solar market has a heavy skew toward rooftop installations – as do many markets in densely populated Western Europe – improving the economics for high-cost, high-efficiency modules.

On Europe’s periphery, the past couple months have also seen a 1 GW heterojunction (HJT) manufacturing plant announced for 2022 in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, and a 500 MW facility in Turkey opened by Kalyon Solar – notable for including ingot and wafer manufacturing.