After falling 15% in 2012, solar photovoltaic wafer production is forecast to grow 19% this year, passing 30 GW and recovering to the 2011 level, according to a new report from NPD Solarbuzz.
However, the report says industry utilization will remain below 60%, and while prices have stopped falling, no significant increases are expected, so profitability for wafer makers will remain challenging.
According to NPD Solarbuzz, multicrystalline silicon (multi c-Si) technology will continue its dominance of the wafer market in the short to mid-term. Nonetheless, the higher-efficiency solar cells that can be produced using monocrystalline silicon (mono c-Si) wafers continue to be in demand for applications where space is restricted, the report adds.
NPD Solarbuzz says the higher efficiencies enable pricing at a premium over standard multi c-Si modules. In particular, rapid growth in the Japanese market is creating demand for premium-efficiency modules that use mono c-Si wafers.
"Supported by attractive solar PV incentive rates, Japan will account for more than 10 percent of global PV demand in 2013," states Charles Annis, vice president of NPD Solarbuzz." With a strong rooftop segment and limitations on the availability of land for large-scale ground-mount installations, Japan has now become a key driver for mono c-Si based modules."
In order for mono c-Si wafers to increase market share compared to multi c-Si wafers, the report says improvements in mono ingot production and module efficiencies will be required.
"Multi c-Si wafer manufacturers are constantly improving casting approaches and developing new high-efficiency multi-wafers," Annis adds." Leading wafer manufacturers are now selling high-efficiency multi c-Si wafers with efficiencies as high as 18 percent, which is in the range of low-end mono c-Si wafers and, thus, helps maintain the competitiveness of multi-c-Si-based products."
In the long term, the report says n-type mono c-Si wafers and enhanced mono performance supported by advanced cell designs and manufacturing have the potential to lower total costs per watt and enable faster growth of the mono c-Si wafer market.
Assuming the success of these technologies, NPD Solarbuzz forecasts that mono c-Si cell production will grow at a faster rate than multi c-Si cells beginning in 2015, expanding into more applications and increasing market share.