Europe is still the technological leader in PV and should come up with industrial policies to bring back the solar manufacturing industry, Gunter Erfurt, chief executive at Swiss equipment maker Meyer Burger said.

“It is not true that solar has moved to Asia. Manufacturing has moved to Asia, but technological development is still here. If we don’t bring it back, we will lose the technology as well,” Erfurt said during a webcast at the EU Sustainability Energy Week 2020.

“Europe is in the PV space is still by far leading in technology, and provides technology to the countries, including China, that are commercialising it. … If we are now making a bold move into providing the right schemes to bring the real industry back to Europe, this can help to sustainably keep Europe’s position.”

Europe could use its technological advantage, for example, by coming up with schemes for solar panels in public tenders that stipulate that modules have an efficiency of above 21%, which would automatically exclude most Chinese produce, he suggested.

Europe and in particular Germany used to be the leading producer of solar panels in the world, but lost that position during the last decade to China, which due to its massive domestic market, economies of scale, lower wages and aggressive credit and industrial policies contributed to the demise of European PV manufacturing.

5GW production in Germany

Meyer Burger itself last Friday had taken the strategic decision to transform itself from an equipment supplier to a manufacturer of solar cells and modules.

The company plans to build up a large-scale cell and panel production in Germany. In the first half of next year, Meyer Burger wants to start production at a yet-undisclosed location, with an initial annual production capacity of 400MW.

The company intends to increase its annual capacity to 1.4GW of cell and 0.8GW of module production by the beginning of 2022, and aims to expand production capacity to at least 5GW in the longer term.

Meyer Burger will use next-generation heterojunction/smart wire technology (HJT/SWCT), which has a higher conversion efficiency and higher energy yield than current standard mono-PERC cells.

According to a report by Germany’s renown Fraunhofer ISE solar institute, HJT/SWCT technology currently has a technological lead of at least three years over competitors, Meyer Burger said, with an efficiency and yield superior to all other technologies currently offered.

"Recently, Fraunhofer ISE also confirmed a record efficiency of 25.4% for a heterojunction solar cell manufactured with the company’s latest technology in May 2020," Meyer Burger said.

That lead is likely to increase in the foreseeable future due to the flattening development of the PERC technology, the company claims, while production costs per Wp of HJT/SWCT modules in mass production are only slightly higher than for the dominant PERC technology.

Meyer Burger for its plans expects to raise 165m Swiss Francs ($174m).

Gunter said China is pursuing a smart industrial policy in solar.

“They have understood that solar will be the oil of the future, and that having much in possession as a nation provides an advantage,” he said.

“If we bring manufacturing back, we can strengthen [Europe’s] position.”