PERC upgrades 'driving' PV gains

The growing adoption of advanced PV cell manufacturing techniques – such as the Passivated Emitter Rear Cell (PERC) process – will drive a significant increase in the average output of solar modules over the coming year, predicts NPD Solarbuzz.

At present, “industry standard” 60-cell modules based on multi-crystalline silicon (multi c-Si) carry a nameplate capacity of 265W, according to market researcher NPD Solarbuzz.

“Within 12 months” that figure will likely hit 275W, a nearly 4% improvement that will both fatten profit margins for PV manufacturers and reduce system costs for developers.

The improvement is coming as cell makers adopt new techniques like the PERC process, says Solarbuzz vice president Finlay Colville.

The uptake of such manufacturing processes will be a boon to toolmakers like Switzerland’s Meyer Burger.

During the industry downturn, many cell makers simply looked to higher quality wafers to drive efficiency gains. But further improvements to multi c-Si cells will require the implementation of entirely new manufacturing processes, Colville says.

“Legacy overcapacity within the industry, combined with uncertainty arising from trade disputes, is now forcing cell manufacturers to improve manufacturing processes to attain record efficiencies," he says.

The technology upgrades are largely being made at existing production lines, as the amount of new production capacity being brought on line is falling short of expectations, due in part to the uncertainty wrought by trade spats.

Multi c-Si modules have a lower output than panels based on mono c-Si. But they also have a lower cost, making them dominant – for now – within the PV industry.

The majority of modules sold by Chinese giants like Yingli and Trina are based on multi c-Si.