IGEE: R&D and production equipment a key focus for Korean PV industry

28. March 2012 | Global PV markets, Markets & Trends, Industry & Suppliers, Top News | By:  Becky Stuart

The 9th International Green Energy Expo 2012 (IGEE) kicked off today, March 28, in Daegu, South Korea. In contrast to the two solar events held in Shanghai, China last week, the exhibitors, including Korea's heavyweights, were out in force. There are mixed feelings however, over the future of the Korean solar industry. On the one side is a clear lack of political support and on the other, a stark focus on research and development, and equipment. Many capacity ramp ups have also been put on hold.

Korea Anti nuclear Demo 2012

Despite anti-atomic protests at the weekend, Korea's government is supporting nuclear rather than solar.

The organizers, the Korea Photovoltaic Industry Association (KOPIA), the Korea Wind Energy Industry Association (KWEIA) and EXCO, Korea Energy News, say this year's expo – the country's largest – is the "biggest ever", with 400 exhibitors from 28 countries flouting their wares.

Speaking to those on the tradeshow floor, however, a different picture was painted, with many remarking that the event has noticeably declined in size over the past two years, due to the downturn in the global solar industry. Nevertheless, many visitors were there during the day and the stands – particularly those offering popcorn or freebies – were relatively well attended, predominantly by an Asian audience. Furthermore, many of the exhibitors believe it is an important event to attend, both in terms of showing support for the Korean solar industry (HHI, Hanwha Solar, for instance) and for meeting potential Asian customers. It is also useful for eyeing up the competition.

Atomic focus

One of the overriding feelings by those pv magazine spoke to, was that Korea's government is not paying enough attention to its photovoltaics industry. Support, it seems, is being given to the atomic sector, which offers lower cost energy solutions than solar. The comments came against the backdrop of the Nuclear Energy Summit, currently being held in the country's capital, Seoul. This was despite a huge anti-nuclear demonstration (pictured), which was held next to the Seoul Station last Saturday.

As such, the installation market can be viewed as almost non-existent and companies, it seems, are instead focusing on increasing efficiencies, strengthening R&D efforts, and developing their production technologies – a similar strategy to that of the Taiwanese solar industry.

Furthermore, Hanwha TechM's Jun-Suk Byun says that China may be advanced as a solar market, but it does not have the technology advantage - something that Korea does have, due to its semiconductor and flat panel display knowledge. And, should the U.S. anti-dumping case go in the favor of the U.S. industry, Korean companies may have a chance to take over China's supply position.

Production equipment development

Hanwha, well-known for its solar and chemical operations, exhibited its solar technology for the first time at the IGEE. Hanwha TechM is using the event to showcase its newly developed equipment, which includes wire saws and a module production line. Next year, the company will head to the U.S. and Europe to tout its products at such shows as the SPI and Intersolar.

Jun-Suk Byun, manager of the sales team for the machine tool division tells pv magazine that the company is beginning to focus its efforts on the upstream business. While the equipment is still in the early phase of development – "a baby" – he is confident that mass production on the module line, of which there is currently one in operation, will be reached in the next two years. Furthermore, he states that the equipment is cheaper than the competitors', like Centrotherm.

With regard to its wire saws, which use diamond wire technology, they are said to be helping to both lower costs, by around 15 percent, and increase quality. Jun-Suk Byun adds that diamond wire technology is better than slurry, for instance, as there are fewer associated environmental problems.

Although Hanwha TechM is currently working on the production technology in Korea, it does intend to establish a manufacturing base in China in the future.
He says that the company is also looking to develop its own string technology. In terms of its key sales markets, China is sitting at number one, followed by Taiwan.

Hanwha SolarOne meanwhile, has delayed construction on its Nantong photovoltaic module manufacturing facility, due to the current market conditions. The company's Ju Cheol Beom says that they expect 2012 to be a "tough" year, but that the market should pick up again by May 2013. While it is unsure of when the company will ramp up its capacity, it is planning to expand from 1.3 gigawatts (GW) to 2.5 GW.  In terms of module costs, excluding direct costs, the company is manufacturing at around $0.70 per Watt.

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) is also looking to develop its own technology and is focused on R&D as opposed to capacity expansion. This year, Chang-Ryong Lee, general manager of the business planning department, green energy division, says that the company will open an office in either San Francisco or LA, the U.S., and maybe Munich, Germany, in the second half of 2012. They will focus on both wind and solar operations.

In terms of its solar equipment, he says that HHI's monocrystalline cells should reach an efficiency of 18.5 percent by this May – using the company's own technology – meaning its modules will be over 16 percent efficient. Nameplate manufacturing capacity is 600 megawatts (MW) for cells and between 450 and 500 MW for modules. By 2013, it is hoped that module capacity will hit 600 MW. Prices are said to be between US1.02 and $1.05 per watt.

Market focus, meanwhile, is directed on Germany, the U.S., Japan and Italy. Korea is not said to be important due to the limitations in place, including a 220 MW cap on the market. 100 MW was already installed in 2011, says Lee, meaning there is only room to add between 100 and 120 MW this year. China is said to be interesting, however, it is difficult to enter, he adds.

When asked if it were true that HHI Had reduced investment in its solar operations by 40 percent in 2011, Lee explains that the news emerged when the company put its plans to expand production capacity to over one GW for crystalline cells and modules on hold. It is expected to ramp up in the next three to four years, depending on the market.

With regard to the company's joint thin film CIGS venture with Saint Gobain, construction is said to be finished on the factory in Korea, and production of the first 12 percent efficient modules is scheduled to begin in August or September; certification is expected to be obtained in October. 100 MW will be produced in the first year, Lee says, and efficiency will hopefully be increased to 13 percent in 2013. The initial markets for the modules will be Korea and the U.S. However, the Middle East and middle Asia will be focused on in the future.

Hanmi Semiconductor is also focusing on the upstream business, due to the lack of domestic support by the government. The IGEE is thought to be a key event for both the company's Chinese and Korean customers. In addition to the two aforementioned markets, it is also focusing on Taiwan. The European market, Christian Roh tells pv magazine, is unfortunately very difficult to penetrate. Interestingly, he said that many of the company's photovoltaic inspection machines are sold to the Chinese market, as "Chinese customers do not like Chinese machines"; something that was repeated throughout the day by various exhibitors.

Korean polysilicon heavyweight, OCI, says its main customer base is also in China – around 30 percent – although Korea and Taiwan are also interesting markets. Currently the company manufactures 42,000 MT of polysilicon. It was planning to ramp capacity up by another 20,000 MT but, due to the market conditions, it has put these plans on hold.

Another polysilicon giant, Woongjin, aims to become the "Global No. 1 in 2014" in the monocrystalline market. A spokesperson for the company says that while
the solar market may be tough, it is attending IGEE to show its willingness to participate in the solar industry.

Project development

To stay competitive, Korea's Shinsung is focusing on system and project development, in addition to its cell and module activities. It is another company,
which was planning to ramp its cell capacity up to one GW, but has delayed expansion, due to the market conditions. It currently manufacturers 350 MW worth of cells, and 150 MW of modules. While it bought its first production line from Centrotherm, the other four were set up using its own equipment. Chairman and CEO, Wan-Keun Lee says that Shinsung switched to using its own equipment, in order to help lower costs.

It was the only company pv magazine spoke to, which is looking to develop photovoltaic projects in Korea. Currently, it is working on a 13.5 MW rooftop and carport project for the country's F1 stadium. While it invested "partially" in the system, it is primarily working as an EPC contractor for Korean energy company, KEPCO. In the future, it will work on installing photovoltaics on industrial rooftops in the country, as the tariff is 50 percent higher than for ground mount projects. Lee could not immediately disclose installation costs.


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