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Upgrading equipment should help solar panel makers to survive

Companies need innovative tools to differentiate from their cheaper Chinese rivals. Cadmium telluride, CIGS and silicon cell manufacturers currently have an overcapacity of 82 percent
Reeling from a glut of production capacity, makers of solar panels need to acquire innovative production equipment.

According to Lux Research, solar firms need to do this in order to cut costs, increase margins, and offer differentiated products.

This year, global capacity utilisation is at 55 percent for crystalline silicon (x-Si) module production, 70 percent for CdTe and 80 percent for CIGS. Consequently, cell and module manufacturers are turning to core product differentiation to revamp margins and fend off low-cost Chinese competition.

"Across the industry there is recognition that innovation is needed to survive a shakeout," says Fatima Toor, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, "Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Opportunities in the Turbulent Photovoltaic Equipment Market." "Equipment suppliers have a vital role to play in enabling that innovation."

Lux Research analysts examined the PV production equipment landscape to identify opportunities for innovation.

In CIGS, standardisation is key. CIGS thin-film PV relies on custom equipment today. However, off-the-shelf tools and improved throughput will drive higher efficiencies, performance and yield - lowering capex and helping manufacturers attain scale and competitive production costs.

New cell designs lead to equipment upgrades. Emerging cell designs, such as selective emitter and heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer present potential for high efficiencies. However, they require new tools, and as a result, 60 percent to 70 percent of new equipment sales are for cell production equipment.

There's also an opportunity to reduce silicon costs. Using direct solidification and epitaxial silicon eliminate the need for wafer sawing. What's more, emerging quasi-monocrystalline silicon ingot growth enables 40 percent cheaper c-Si wafers.
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