In a challenging PV manufacturing market, cast-mono is emerging as an important strategy for wafer and vertically integrated module makers, particularly in China, to increase competitiveness, according to a new report from NPD Solarbuzz.
PV polysilicon and wafer prices fell approximately 50% in 2011, and with demand for solar systems forecast to be down or flat in 2012, polysilicon and wafer prices are expected to remain under heavy pressure. As a result, revenues for both industries are predicted to shrink: polysilicon by 35% and wafer by 47%.
Significant oversupply of both polysilicon and wafer production is causing less competitive manufacturers to temporarily idle or shutter factories and reduce utilization. Polysilicon factory utilization is forecast to fall from 76% in 2011 to 66% in 2012, according to the report. Wafer utilization is forecast to fall from 64% to 57%.
Cast-mono technology enables hybrid mono/multicrystalline ingots to be grown in high-productivity conventional multicrystalline DS casting furnaces at lower costs than Cz-grown mono ingots.
‘Chinese manufacturers know they need to increase conversion efficiencies in order to remain competitive in the oversupplied market,’ says Charles Annis, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz. ‘They see cast-mono as a low-cost approach with relatively low technical barriers to achieving this goal.’
This year, cast-mono is predicted to account for 2.4 GW, or about 8% of total PV wafer production. Based on survey results detailed in the report, cast-mono production is forecast to grow steadily and to account for more than 25% of all wafer production by 2016.
‘Many leading Chinese manufacturers are very optimistic about cast-mono, but there are still multiple technical and commercial challenges, such as the wide range of efficiency distributions and the non-uniform appearance of modules, which need to be resolved before the technology can fully achieve its promise of higher efficiency at lower costs,’ Annis notes. ‘In 2012, we will see how the end market receives a strong supplier push of cast-mono.’