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- An Expert's Opinion -

#8: N-Type - Some Food for Thought

This week we have the pleasure of picking the brains of Dr Alex Barrows, Director of Research at Exawatt.
Alex is especially interested in forecasting the efficiency and cost evolution of PV technologies in order
to understand when and how new technologies will influence the market, and welcomes any enquiries on
this topic or beyond.

Jinko’s big plans for TOPCon

At the launch event for Jinko’s Tiger Neo module series in early November, the company confirmed a new TOPCon manufacturing capacity target of 10 GW by the end of 2022. This marks Jinko’s first foray into gigawatt-scale n-type manufacturing, and could signal a significant shift. The manufacturer was a relatively early mover into TOPCon technology; it first discussed TOPCon on investor conference calls in 2018 and launched 800 MW of production capacity in 2019. After this, things quietened down for a while, with the company holding off from further expansion.


Manufacturing yield was reported to be a significant issue for many companies making early attempts at TOPCon cell production, while the manufacturing cost premium over PERC modules remained too high to justify a major shift. In addition, PERC cell efficiencies continued to grow impressively, and innovations such as the move towards small cell-gaps and the transition to larger wafers helped to keep module efficiencies growing without the need to change cell technology.


Now, with efficiency gains for PERC becoming harder to achieve and many mass-production challenges for TOPCon having been overcome, it seems that Jinko is ready to begin a more significant shift towards n-type TOPCon.


2021: N-type announcements coming thick and fast

While Jinko was a relatively early mover – at least within China – in bringing TOPCon to mass-production scale, most major cell manufacturers now have capacity plans for n-type TOPCon or heterojunction (HJT). In some cases details of the plans are scarce, but numerous major multi-stage expansions have already been announced. In addition to existing manufacturers moving into this area, new entrants have also been making plans. This is particularly true for HJT capacity, which requires new production lines, unlike TOPCon, which is an upgrade route for existing PERC cell lines.


Based on publicly available announcements and statements made prior to early November 2021, the industry is set to reach over 80 GW of TOPCon capacity and over 50 GW of HJT capacity by the end of 2023. Although this growth looks strong, it still corresponds to n-type cell capacity accounting for only a little over 20% of total global capacity by this point (up from about 8% at the end of 2021). With cell manufacturing already suffering from significant overcapacity, the ultimate n-type market share will be determined by the utilization of these lines. In turn, this will depend heavily on whether the expected cost reductions can be achieved for TOPCon and HJT. If cost-downs proceed as hoped, a transition to TOPCon could sweep the market relatively rapidly, with PERC lines being quickly upgraded – echoing the rapid move from BSF to PERC in 2015 and 2016.

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Major Chinese growth

Non-Chinese companies have previously held a strong position in the n-type market, with manufacturers such as LG, Panasonic and SunPower (now Maxeon) differentiating themselves from their Chinese rivals on the basis of their technologies. While Maxeon will – at least for the next few years – remain differentiated with its IBC technology, TOPCon and HJT are both set to become relatively standard for Chinese manufacturers. This presents manufacturers outside of China with a challenge to remain differentiated, and Panasonic has already announced that it will no longer manufacture HJT cells from 2022. That said, with increased interest in regionalization of manufacturing for other reasons – including political considerations, tariffs, manufacturing incentives and concerns over labor conditions – we believe manufacturers outside of China will find opportunities for differentiation and growth beyond their cell technology choices. For module buyers in the U.S., a large-scale transition towards TOPCon and HJT may be slightly slower due to the country’s reliance on cells and modules produced outside of China. Many major manufacturers are optimising mass-production processes at their Chinese manufacturing bases before rolling these technologies out to their factories in SE Asia, potentially delaying their penetration into the U.S. market.

Exawatt provides strategic consulting and market analysis in industries that support decarbonization through electrification. These industries include solar PV, power electronics, lithium ion batteries and electric vehicles. Alex welcomes further enquiries.


Dr Alex Barrows
Director of Research, Exawatt


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