China’s BYD targets 5 GW PV module capacity; mass energy storage production

Living up to its name, BYD (Build your Dreams), is on an upward growth trajectory. During a visit to its photovoltaic module manufacturing facility in Shanghai, China, general manager, Jiang Zhan-feng tells pv magazine the primary goal for BYD is to become a Tier 1 module supplier.

To achieve this, the company is looking to ramp up its current module manufacturing capacity from 750 megawatts (MW) to five gigawatts (GW) over the next four years. As Zhan-feng says, BYD achieved a turnover of US$7.8 billion in 2011, therefore, it has the means to significantly ramp its capacity up without outside financial help.

New production locations

However, he says the current U.S.-China anti-dumping trade case is a big thorn in solar’s side. If the import duties end up being imposed, and the dispute moves to Europe, he believes the global market will shrink considerably and problems for Chinese companies, in particular, will be caused.

His strategy, therefore, is to move to other markets. Already, BYD is planning a new module factory in Chennai, southern India. It was originally scheduled for completion in the third quarter of this year. However, due to the challenging market conditions, the plans have been postponed. He is confident, though, that it will be completed by the end of 2012. Initial capacity will be 50 MW, but there is room to ramp up to 200 MW.

The company is also in talks with the LA government and is considering setting up a production base there. However, due to the high manufacturing costs, the plans are at a very tentative stage. Meanwhile, BYD already has a manufacturing facility in Hungary and a storage facility in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, capable of storing up to 20 MW worth of modules.

Fully automated

As aforementioned, BYD presently manufactures 750 MW worth of photovoltaic modules across seven production lines. In one hour, Sun Xiang, manager of the Shanghai product department tells pv magazine, 60 modules are produced, while a huge 1,200 come off the production line every day.

While its lines are currently 70 percent automated, it intends to switch to 100 percent automation in the next few weeks. The equipment, from Schmidt, is already set up in a 2,500 square meter production area, and waiting to go. Between 600 and 700 employees currently work on the module production lines (two shifts; 10 hours each); once the switch to automation occurs, just 220 workers will remain, while the rest will be transferred to other production lines, Xiang says.

It is hoped that being fully automated will allow BYD to further push production costs down. The company declined to provide any concrete details, however.

Until now, BYD has sold the majority of its modules to the European markets – over 70 percent – however, it says the Asian and U.S. markets are growing. As such, in 2012, it forecasts that 50 percent of its sales will be in Europe, while the remaining 50 percent will go to Asia, in particular China, Australia and the U.S.

Shift to mono

In addition to manufacturing modules, BYD produces polysilicon (amount unknown), 850 MW of wafers, one GW of cells, and around 400,000 inverters annually. Of its 13 factories, two are focused on renewable energy: one produces modules; the other, the polysilicon, wafers, cells and inverters.

Currently, it manufactures polycrystalline cells with an average efficiency of around 17.4 percent (module efficiency: 14.1 percent). However, this May, the company will begin mass production of monocrystalline cells and, in the future – "maybe" in the fourth quarter of this year – it is considering producing mono-like cells.

Storage technology

BYD was established in 1995, and originally focused on battery technology. It was only in 2006, having identified the importance of renewable energy, that the company entered the solar business. Today, it still manufacturers batteries for such mobile phone giants as Nokia and Apple.

However, due to its strong background in the subject of storage, the company has been working hard to create solar energy storage solutions. At the start of January it announced, along with the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), the launch of the world’s largest battery energy storage station in Zhangbei, Hebei Province.

The station is said to combine 140 MW of renewable energy generation –wind and solar – 36 MWh of energy storage, and a smart power transmission system. SGCC was said to have chosen BYD, because of the company’s iron-phosphate battery technology, and its ‘peak shaving and load leveling charge and discharge’ methodologies.

Zhan-feng adds that by 2013, BYD will be ready to produce lithium batteries on a mass-scale. It declined to provide any further information though.

Embracing solar

Embracing its philosophy wholeheartedly, BYD installed a one MW solar park at its HQ in Shenzhen, China, which was grid connected in 2009; the generated electricity is consumed by the factory. Overall, the company plans to install 80 MW on all 13 of its factory rooftops. In addition to its photovoltaic products and batteries, BYD also produces vehicles, and specifically, electric cars.