With the rise of large formats and n-type products starting to gain recognition, these are exciting times for the manufacture of photovoltaic modules. Residential and commercial installations are also growing strongly in Europe and elsewhere, which means there is much to talk about with a module maker who has long worked to establish a foothold in this space. In the following interview, Sascha Rossmann, Vice President of Global Sales and Marc Ortmanns, European Marketing Manager at Winaico provide a market update and take a closer look at the technology roadmap of the Taiwan-based module maker for coming years.
When it comes to PV module technology, the past year has been devoted to the introduction of new wafer / cell size formats. What is Winaico’s position on this issue?
Sascha Rossmann: Currently we are focusing on the M6 (166mm) insert. From next year we will be migrating to the M10 (182mm). In terms of wattage, that will mean around 400-410 watts on the 60 cell format and 500-550 on the 72 cell format. We don’t see as much innovation in cell technology these days, it’s all about wafer size and cost reduction. If we really want to gain in efficiency, we must move towards double or even triple junction cells, and that is still a long way off.
What are the challenges of switching to the M10 format? Does it require a lot of new production equipment?
Absolutely, you have to change the whole production line. The stringers and all draping of the solar cells should be leveled. And you also need higher levels of automation because cell alignment needs to be even more precise with much tighter gaps. This is a challenge for many small manufacturers.
Marc Ortmann: On the market side, when we look at the rooftop segment in particular, there is a bit of a conflict of interest. On the one hand, there are manufacturers who want to cut costs and see larger formats as an effective way to achieve this. On the other hand, you have the rooftop PV installers, who all prefer smaller dimensions. I think 400-410W panels with dimensions of 1.709 x 1.135mm are fine, anything bigger is just not practical to install on a roof.
Our customers focus a lot on private and commercial PV installations – the average size of the system we ship is around 15-20kW. Size is therefore a key criterion, unlike many large Asian manufacturers and OEM suppliers who focus on PV modules for large scale projects. While switching to the M10, we always try to keep the panel as small as possible so that it is best suited to European roofs.
In recent months, we’ve seen a few other PV module manufacturers take their first steps into n-type technology. Is it also on Winaico’s roadmap?
RS: We’re working on it, but we don’t have a concrete product yet. In two or three years, we expect to see a major migration to type n, once this current movement towards larger platelet sizes has run its course. And in type n, we see TOPCon being the cheapest option, but we’ve found that if you really want to see a significant increase in efficiency, you have to look at the heterojunction. In combination with the rear contact, this will bring the efficiency of the modules up to 23%.
What else on the company’s technology roadmap?
RS: We are working on rapid shutdown technology (RSD), with some demonstration systems already installed in Taiwan. We have developed our own microchip to control the junction box, taking advantage of our production base in Taiwan and the island’s leading position in the semiconductor industry. We are also testing it in Taiwan, as we expect RSD regulations to become tougher here, given the high ambient temperatures and the very expensive buildings where solar power is installed: if you are installing a PV system in a 10 billion plant. dollars, you don’t want this system to start a fire. And with so many high-tech and expensive factories in Taiwan, the government is considering stipulations for RSD.
Currently, RSD is typically managed by the inverter, but by integrating it at the module level, we provide customers with more flexibility. This is a valuable additional function for the roofing market, and it is necessary to develop a complete printed circuit with all the technical signage and so on, which is not easy to do.
Other than Taiwan, what are the key markets for Winaico’s products?
MO: For us, it is still Europe. This is where we started in 2008, and it is still our main market, with 50 to 60% of our capacity sold in Europe. We have a strong and loyal clientele here, and they appreciate that we have maintained a stable presence in the market for years, with an ongoing team, never changing our approach. We have our strongest base in Germany and we have expanded into other European regions, for example BeNeLux, Scandinavia, Poland and Italy. Outside of Europe we are strong in Australia, Japan, USA and of course Taiwan.
How do you see these markets right now?
RS: In all of these regions, we focus on the residential and commercial markets. We have systems of a few megawatts, but it’s quite rare. As a manufacturer, we are a niche player, not only from a capacity perspective but also from our portfolio. We are targeting a select group of installers who focus on this private sector. In this segment, we see that the growing “green wave” towards storage and electric vehicles has created a lot of new demands and also a whole new way of selling.
MO: In the past, the panel was the main topic of interest to the end user. Now the storage solution is key, and the panel has become just part of the whole system that is being driven, in terms of marketing and sales, by the storage solution. To promote yourself as a manufacturer of photovoltaic panels in this space, the softer skills to form long-term customer relationships and be reliable in terms of quality, service, warranty management and these other relationship aspects become more important. This is a strategy we started with over 12 years ago, and how we manage relationships on the installer side today.
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