Evolving R&D Key to Holding Position in Solar Super LeagueBy Cas Biekmann | Tue, 08/11/2020 - 12:42
Q: What are your recent success stories and what sets the company apart from its competition?
A: Some success stories include the first Mexican utility-scale power plant in operation, which is using our bifacial modules exclusively. It operates at a 223MW capacity, making it a landmark for the industry, and one that we are proud of. What sets LONGi apart from the competition is that we are the only solar module supplier with AAA bankability. The company is robust, especially regarding financial and quality factors. One of the pillars that supports this bankability is our R&D investment. We invest around 7 percent of our yearly revenue in R&D, which has led to over 600 patents.
Q: Where does the company focus its R&D investments?
A: LONGi is a vertically integrated company, meaning that we cover every process, from production to the sale of the module. Our investment in R&D involves different steps throughout the supply chain that include growing silicon ingots and cutting the wafers. Regarding the latter, LONGi holds 45 percent of the global market share. There are many different factors within the chain that we study and improve, not only on the technological side but also in terms of lowering production costs. LONGi constantly updates its production lines, introducing new machines and robots with the goal of becoming more productive at a lower cost.
In 2020, LONGi entered into a global patent agreement on gallium-doped technologies and R&D team has optimized the gallium-doped M10 standard silicon wafers (182mm) to produce a P-Type Mono PERC module with the lowest LID. Gallium-doped silicon wafers have been verified to show lower LID performance with stable, long-term power generation when compared to boron-doped ones. Though gallium-doped silicon wafers are more expensive, LONGi has effectively addressed this with advances in technology and production scale. With the gallium-doped cells, Hi-MO5 has increased attenuation performance, power performance and long-term reliability. The 1st year power warranty is an industry-leading 98% and linear annual attenuation is within 0.45%.
LONGi also adopts Smart Soldering technology on Hi-MO 5 which increased module conversion efficiency by 0.3%. This proprietary technology uses integrated segmented soldering ribbons that maximize light capture and reliably connect cells with reduced gap distance. “Smart Soldering” reduces the tensile stress of the cell for higher reliability. This is how we introduce additional value to our products.
Q: Where are the major opportunities for Mexico’s solar supply chain?
A: In both the utility-scale and distributed generation markets, local companies are demonstrating a great deal of growth. Development has slowed down somewhat due to the pandemic but the number of local companies that are now part of the supply chain has grown and they have acquired a great deal of expertise. In the past, this area was dominated by foreign companies. The only missing element at the moment is a defined political governmental framework. For example, we have been working with several C&I developers, such as hotel chains, cinemas and shopping malls, that have been installing solar on their rooftops. The growth here is almost unbelievable. All that is needed is a sound political agreement to foster this development. LONGI sees the opportunities and we have three staff members focusing on this emerging market and its great potential.
Q: What is LONGi’s assessment of energy-related governmental measures and revamped policy outlines?
A: We are worried about the measures that are being taken because they threaten to change what had been established by the former government. I understand the government’s goal to strengthen CFE. We have talked to CFE developers because their pipeline of projects is very interesting. CFE will need to partner with the private sector to make these projects a reality. The government fully admits that Mexico needs renewable energy, and that this revolution cannot be stopped. Probably, we will see the construction of smaller projects. The long-term energy auctions were great because of their utility-scale projects, but it is important to have diversity in terms of development. A landscape with smaller projects and new players adding to the mix is a good thing. Sooner or later, the controversy will be settled and we will find a way to cooperate in terms of renewables. When speaking to others in the sector, everybody is confident a solution will be found because they have faith in the market. The need for energy is there. We need to figure out what type of projects to develop and where to build them.
Q: How is the company working to adopt storage and hybrid solutions to amplify its business?
A: LONGi truly believes in storage. For example, there is a LONGi's Initiative called “Solar for Solar” our factories are powered by renewable energy (Solar and Hydro), thereby further reducing the impact on the environment. LONGi purchases recyclable and renewable raw materials to reduce use and consumption at source and adopts green and advanced production equipment to control its energy consumption. This means that all the production for solar modules is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, which incorporates storage as well. We also work with strategic developers and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) on hybrid projects, especially those that combine wind and solar. Right now, we are trying to examine what shading effects wind turbines could have on solar panels, in order to find the most suitable solution for this application.
A combination of wind and bifacial modules makes total sense. We are also working with partners for inverters to truly understand the benefits of these hybrid projects. This niche market has a great deal of potential and we will see many hybrid projects happening fairly soon.
Q: What are the main goals LONGi Solar aims to achieve before the end of the year?
A: The most valuable product is one our partners and customers need. Creating, from the ground up, a high-power module that meets customers’ requirements is the inspiration behind Hi-MO 5, to do that, we engaged the full force of LONGi’s innovations and insights from our customers. The value of innovation lies in applications. The mass production of advanced technology can deliver true value. LONGi look forward to delivering value, higher power and lower LCOE to our global partners and customers that enable a new wave of photovoltaic grid parity.
On the commercial side, the goal is to increase our market share this year. I think we will see a fivefold increase compared to last year. This year has been challenging so far, but some projects are developing regardless. Despite some delays, we are scheduled to deploy over 1.5GW in Latin America.
LONGi firmly believes that continuous innovations that can be brought quickly into volume production delivers true value for its partners and customers. The module production capacity of LONGi has increased to 30GW in 2020. Hi-MO5 will be produced in volume and receive IEC/UL certification in September, 2020. The production capacity of Hi-MO 5 will reach 12GW in Q3 2020, guaranteeing a stable supply for global customers.
LONGi Green Energy Technology was founded in 2000. LONGi is a world leader in the manufacturing of high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels, and is the world's largest supplier of monocrystalline silicon wafers.