Ambitious PV expansion plans for China’s Tongwei, Longi and Sunport still on track

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In an interview with pv magazine during last week’s Smarter E event in Munich, Germany, Tongwei Solar revealed it will progress with its plans to increase current solar cell manufacturing capacity from 6 GW to 12 GW by the end of 2018, and to 20 GW by the end of 2019, despite the new PV policy changes in China.

International marketing manager, Tom Liu revealed that of the 12 GW of planned capacity, 9 GW will comprise monocrystalline cells, while the remaining 3 GW will be for the production of polycrystalline products. “We expect, however, that the proportion of monocrystalline products will be even higher in the future,” he added.

The additional 6 GW is expected to be deployed starting from this quarter. “The new lines will be able to start producing in September,” Liu said.

Furthermore, he confirmed that Tongwei will add a further 8 GW of new solar cell capacity by the end of 2019. “Overall, we aim to reach a capacity of 30 GW [in the future],” Liu asserted.

The increased cell capacity will be rolled out at both of the company’s solar facilities, located in Hefei in China’s east (where the company also has 1 GW of module capacity), and Chengdu, in the country’s southwest.

India, the Middle East, South America and Korea were highlighted by Liu as target markets for Tongwei’s solar cells outside of China, which will, however, remain its primary market in the long-term. When asked if the company may also build manufacturing facilities outside of China, Liu said it is an option the company is evaluating, but that right now, no plans are in the pipeline.

Tongwei is further planning to almost double its annual polysilicon capacity, from the current 70,000 MT, to 120,000 MT at the end of 2019. The company’s largest polysilicon customer is China’s monocrystalline module specialist, Longi, which in late May agreed to buy 50,000 MT through the end of 2020.

Longi extends its reach

Speaking to pv magazine, Mr. Zhen Guo Li, General Manager, Director at mono PV module manufacturer, Longi, said the company will progress as planned with its Chinese plans of investing US$300 million in a 5 GW PV module plant, and tripling wafer capacity to 45 GW by 2020.

He added that while Longi’s overseas module sales accounted for just 10% in 2017, this figure will grow to 30% this year, and is expected to expand to over 50% by 2020.

This ties in with the company’s – and many in the wider industry’s – expectations that while demand will dip this year following the policy changes, the 2019 market will revive, with demand exceeding that of 2017. Indeed, Guo Li said he expects to see annual global PV demand in the range of 300 GW in the next three to five years.

Commenting on the policy decisions, Guo Li said that some companies will exit the market in the next two to four months, but then inventories will clear and prices will become more rational again – ending up at around 10% less than they were at the start of 2018.

During the Smarter E, reports of collapsing module prices circulated, with PVInsights and EnergyTrend reporting average prices in the $0.27-$0.37/W range. Shortly after China’s abrupt solar support halt, meanwhile, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) responded with a report forecasting that global PV module prices would fall 34% this year, estimating that monocrystalline silicon modules would cost only $0.24 per watt by the end of the year.

Overall, Longi is maintaining strong confidence in the industry, believing that solar + storage is the future.

Sunport stands solid

In September 2017, Nanjing Sunport Power Corp. Ltd announced the opening of its first 1 GW solar module manufacturing facility in China, following a multi million investment in Dutch equipment manufacturer, Eurotron’s complete back contact solar module manufacturing line in 2013.

The Chinese manufacturer focuses purely on metal wrap through (MWT) module technology, working with both multi and mono products.

Wenting Sheng, Vice President of Sunport told pv magazine that the company is currently experiencing no oversupply problems, which are affecting more the lower end module market. As such, she said it is still on track to ramp up manufacturing capacity to 2 GW by the end of this year.

Overall, she is very positive about the development of the solar module market in China, as there is still a lack of high efficiency modules – they will become increasingly important for the country’s Top Runner program which, to date, has not been affected by the changes – and few factories that can supply them.

Like Longi’s Guo Li , Sheng was pragmatic about the changes, and also believes that after one to two months, the aftershocks will calm. Prices will always go down, but not so dramatically, she said.

BYD

BYD also views the recent changes as good news for its operations. Gavin Tong, Managing Director, Overseas Sales Department, Solar Division, told pv magazine that the market will see a lot – around 30% – of low quality, smaller manufacturers, or those with existing financial problems, exit the market. This will happen in the next year.

Given that around 70% of BYD’s module sales comprise overseas markets, the company is not concerned. A diversified business model also helps to mitigate risk in a certain sector.

In terms of manufacturing plans, Tong said that BYD will invest under $10 million in the establishment of a 200 to 400 MW production line in China for monosilicon modules in the next half year.

The aim is to research and investigate the different types of mono technologies available. Once it sees a clear market and technology, it will then invest more, said Tong. Overall, he said there is global interest in this project.

In other news, Tong said that BYD plans to install solar at all of its production sites – 30 – over the next three years. At its headquarters, it has already completed a 10 MW rooftop array combined with 40 MWh of storage.