The LONGi-term play: Get familiar with this record-breaking Chinese manufacturer

solar panels in flowers

Even amid the tariff uncertainty, China-based LONGi Solar is ready to establish a bigger presence in the U.S. and intrigues us in the (ahem) long-term. Wholly owned by LONGi Group, there was speculation that in a punitive tariff scenario the company might consider establishing its own U.S. manufacturing line, but when we asked about it, the leadership team had no news of that kind to reveal. Just know that they are watching the U.S. market and Trump’s decision closely, weighing a lot of scenarios.

“The United States will continue to be one of the major PV markets in the world, and we are fully committed to the U.S. PV market,” the company told us. “With PV system cost continuing to drop, more and more states will reach grid parity. We are actively assessing the trade case and keep all options open to serve the U.S. market.”

Some numbers for context:

  • For the last 17 years, LONGi has been in mono products development, committing about 5 to 7 percent of its annual revenue to R&D on high-efficiency mono c-Si ingot, wafer, cell and module technology.
  • LONGi is the largest supplier of mono-crystalline silicon wafers in the world with more than $2.7 billion in total assets in 2016.
  • LONGi Solar shipped more than 3 GW mono modules by 2016, and will ship approximately over 4.5 GW high efficiency mono modules in 2017.

Focus on PERC

The main area of focus for LONGi is its PERC cell development. In this year’s DNV-GL module extended reliability scorecard, both of its conventional mono and mono PERC modules were among “top performers” for all testing categories — the latter of which has been a big focus since releasing its PERC module, Hi-MO 1, in 2016.

“We are seeing more and more customers realizing the benefit of mono PERC modules,” the LONGi team told Solar Builder. “Just two years ago, PERC cell capacity accounted for about 5 GW of the market. But the drive for higher efficiencies in the world’s largest solar market, China, has turned the tables.”

Mono PERC modules bring a new economic advantage to the solar market. Due to the higher conversion efficiency associated with mono PERC technology, solar developers can use fewer modules and less equipment to achieve a desired energy output for a project. This, in turn, saves money due to lower area-dependent balance-of-system costs for items including racking and mounting hardware, cabling and wiring as well as mechanical and electrical installation. PERC cell capacity is expected to reach about 35 GW in 2017, or roughly one-third of all PV module production, according to GTM Research.

Bifacial upgrade

Last year, LONGi Solar upgraded Hi-MO 1 to Hi-MO 2, capturing the best features of LONGi’s Hi-MO 1 technology platform — low-degradation, high-power PERC technology — and combining them with bifacial technology. In mass production, the efficiency of the front side exceeds 21.2 percent. Light reception of the backside can bring significant additional energy yield. If the backside power yield increases the overall module efficiency by 10 percent, the power of bifacial PERC module can reach 330 watts for a 60-cell module (300 watts from the front side), and 396 watts for 72-cell module (360 watts from the front side). Combined with low degradation mono PERC technology, Hi-MO 2 offers first-year degradation below 2 percent, and the average annual degradation below 0.45 percent for 30 years — significantly better than conventional modules.

Meanwhile, the bifacial PERC modules come with double-glass lamination, which improves PID resistance and can extend the module life beyond 30 years.

Bifaciality isn’t a new idea, but LONGi’s version is setting records: The National Center of Supervision and Inspection on Solar Photovoltaic Products Quality (CPVT) issued an independent test report showing that LONGi Solar’s bifacial PERC monocrystalline cells achieved a world record bifaciality of 82.15 percent. For comparison’s sake, the bifaciality of bifacial PERC cells in the market is about 75 percent.

“Bifacial mono PERC inherits all of the advantages of mono PERC, including high power and higher energy yield,” the company says. “In addition, it can harvest energy from the rear side of the module, making system economics even better and delivering significantly lower LCOE. Right now, we are in the product introduction phase and have already seen strong interest from customers. If bifacial PERC modules can consistently demonstrate significant rear side gain (10 to 15 percent or even higher), the market will react quickly and favorably.”

LONGi Solar thinks its high efficiency mono PERC modules would be a fit for EPC contractors and developers in all different applications, including utility, C&I and residential rooftops.

“In particular, the system cost savings with high efficiency mono PERC modules could be much more significant on C&I and residential rooftop projects,” the company says.

More broadly, it sounds like there is an even lower LCOE to be achieved through continued PERC development.

“In the near future, we think mono PERC (including bifacial mono PERC) will be the best solution to deliver lower LCOE,” the company says. “Current HVM production PERC cell efficiency is 21.5 percent. We have demonstrated well over 23 percent for mono PERC cell efficiency on our R&D line, and further improvements will likely continue. In parallel, we are working on a few technologies on the module side: multi-busbar, half-cut cells, as well as shingling process. With these advancements, we think 400 watts can be achieved on 72-cell format in the next couple of years.”

 

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