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Solarfun: Towards Cell Purity

Solarfun Power Holdings, a vertically-integrated manufacturer of silicon ingots and Photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules in China, has announced the introduction of “ECLIPSE” a new line of PV cells and modules with reduced Light Induced Degradation (LID). “ECLIPSE” reduces the impurity concentration in cells, therefore, reducing the relative LID to about 1% from 2% to 3%, or less than 2 W compared to about 4 W to 5 W for a 180 W module equipped with standard cells. Srinivasamohan Narayanan, VP of Technology and Paul Combs, VP of Investor Relations at Solarfun talk about their new technology.


By Sarah Jeong (pved1@infothe.com)



Srinivasamohan Narayanan, VP of Technology, Solarfun


Recently, Solarfun has introduced a new line of PV cells and modules named “ECLIPSE” with reduced Light Induced Degradation (LID). Please provide our readers with some more details on the technology.


Narayanan: Module degradation has two causes: Light Induced Degradation (LID), and aging effects of module materials such as glass, metal contacts, and etc. The largest percentage of LID for PV modules occurs during the first day of sun exposure. Once this has occurred, the degradation effect slows down substantially.

LID is believed to be caused by defects, oxygen, and other impurities in the silicon wafer. These defects are activated by light exposure and both the efficiency and power output of solar cells are reduced. Solarfun has modified the charge mix and “ECLIPSE” used in the ingot production process to adjust the impurity concentration, without sacrificing the ingot yield. Cell processing has also been optimized to utilize the performance potential of those silicon wafers with lower impurity concentration.


What do you expect this new technical innovation will do to the solar market?


Narayanan: Many of our customers interact with investors and banks who would like to predict the module and system output with greater accuracy. Reduction in LID will help to more accurately predict system output and can help the customers to design systems more cost effectively. We consider this as a part of our customer focus objectives.


Solarfun Cell facilities


At the moment, what do you think is the most critical factor to improving the cell efficiency even further?


Narayanan: I have been in the PV industry for the past 26 years and involved in the incorporation of various efficiency enhancement sequences such as aluminum back surface field and silicon nitride passivation. Incorporating any new sequences, however, is becoming increasingly difficult as we now need to achieve improved performance at reduced manufacturing cost. The proof of concept for achieving 20% cell efficiency is well known. Yet the most critical factor for improving cell efficiency beyond 18.5% is the availability of cost effective, high-throughput tools and process sequences for advanced metallization and rear passivation. Several options are being investigated by Solarfun and we are hopeful to commercialize a 20% process in the next 3 years.


How do you control and maintain the quality of raw materials throughout the production process?


Narayanan: This is an essential activity and is very relevant in the context of aggressively reducing production costs and improving performance. Defining clear specifications, strict raw material IQC, and alternate materials evaluation protocol are some the measures taken at every stage of the entire value stream, from crystal growth through to module manufacturing. Quick and reliable feedback are given and corrective action are taken based on sound technical knowledge and manufacturing experience. Having a dedicated pilot line for technology development is very helpful in this effort.


Only founded in 2004, Solarfun has enjoyed a high reputation and fruitful outcomes from its vertically-integrated-production process. Please introduce some of your technical breakthroughs you have achieved so far.


Narayanan: During the past few years, Solarfun has been able to take full advantage of being a fully vertically integrated company. Solarfun’s technology center, apart from having specialized process and characterization equipment, features a pilot production line. This line enables us to develop process sequences and smooth technology transfer to the production lines.

In addition to the innovations of Solarfun’s ECLIPSE, low LID products, Solarfun has developed cost effective technologies for Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) applications with 19% cell efficiency, and 21% efficient bifacial cells. The wafer requirements for these special applications are easily met as the crystal growth is done in-house. Solarfun optimizes the charge mix for crystal growth based on the requirements for cell performance.



Paul Combs, VP of Investor Relations, Solarfun


As a China-based company, how do you estimate your work environment in the country? What is the upside and downside of running the business headquartered in China?


Combs: The work environment in China is excellent. The advantages are many including: a large low-cost highly skilled and motivated workforce, a diverse number of quality local suppliers, a modern infrastructure including land and sea transportation, government support in the form of investment and other incentives, a collaborative network of both academic and government research institutions, and an accommodative banking sector. Also, government support for renewable energy will provide a large “home market” for our products over time. The downside is far offset by the positives but would include challenges hiring international talent, particularly if they are to be located in China, and a sometimes negative perception of “made in China” from a branding perspective.


Solarfun Cell research


Among residential, commercial and utility-scale projects, what will take the most important market share in China in the near future?


Combs: In the near term, government incentives in China have been focused more on rooftop installations, both commercial and residential. Large-scale utility projects or other large “ground mounted” projects will eventually be the largest volume market driven by anticipated government Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) expected to be announced in 2010.


In your opinion, what would be the major forces for the global PV industry in the coming years?


Combs: The major forces for the global PV industry in the future will focus on reducing manufacturing costs and improving product performance in a constant effort to make PV crystalline products a competitive alternative to more traditional forms of energy such as coal, oil and natural gas. Large new markets like China and the United States in particular, will likely grow to surpass today’s largest market Germany.


When do you expect the subsidy dependency of the solar industry might end?


Combs: Subsidies are clearly driving the market for PV crystalline products and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Two trends are currently underway: countries with already existing subsidy programs are revising tariff structures to adjust to the rapidly declining costs of PV crystalline products, while some new potentially large markets such as China and the U.S. are still formulating subsidy programs to stimulate further renewable energy development. It is likely that government entities throughout the world will continue to support renewable development in the form of subsidies until the long awaited “grid parity” is accomplished.



Solarfun Cell facilities


Do you foresee any tremendous changes in the solar market in 2010? What is your prospect for 2010?


Combs: The solar market in 2010 will overall experience robust demand on a global basis. Shipments (MW) should grow a minimum of 50% and exceed 8 GW. The three most significant trends in our opinion will be:

1) Germany’s revision of its subsidy programs leading to accelerated demand in the first half of the year,

2) Growth in new markets particularly China and the U.S. and also including Italy, France and Eastern Europe and,

3) China-based players continuing to capture a larger share of the market, particularly versus European players with higher cost structures.


Last, but not least, what will be the goals of Solarfun in 2010?


Combs: Our primary goals for 2010 include: first and foremost to work as a partner with our customers to meet their specific needs, followed closely by expanding our module capacity to 700 MW, penetrating important new markets particularly China and the U.S., continuing to drive down non-polysilicon processing costs, and improving product performance and features. We see the potential to grow our shipment volumes 70%-100% year-over-year and anticipate 2010 will be a very good year for the company.



Sarah Jeong is Editor of InterPV. Send your comments to pved1@infothe.com.



For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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