Industry utilization, however, is forecast to remain below 60%. While prices have stopped falling, no significant increases are expected and profitability for wafer makers will remain challenging as a result.
Multicrystalline silicon (multi c-Si) technology is forecast to continue its dominance of the wafer market in the short to midterm. However, the higher efficiency solar cells that can be produced using monocrystalline silicon (mono c-Si) wafers remain in demand for applications with restricted space and the higher attributes allow premium pricing compared to standard multi c-Si modules.
Rapid growth in Japan in particular is creating demand for premium efficiency modules that use mono c-Si wafers.
"Supported by attractive solar PV incentive rates, Japan will account for more than 10% of global PV demand in 2013," said NPD Solarbuzz Vice President Charles Annis. With a strong rooftop segment and limitations on the availability of land for large-scale ground-mount installations, Japan has now become a key driver for mono c-Si based modules."
According to NPD Solarbuzz, improvements in mono ingot production and module efficiencies will be required for mono c-Si wafers to increase their market share compared to multi c-Si wafers.
Annis added: "Multi c-Si wafer manufacturers are constantly improving casting approaches and developing new high-efficiency multi-wafers. Leading wafer manufacturers are now selling high-efficiency multi c-Si wafers with efficiencies as high as 18%, which is in the range of low end mono c-Si wafers, and thus helps maintain the competitiveness of multi c-Si based products."
In the long term, NPD Solarbuzz says n-type mono c-Si wafers and enhanced mono performance supported by advanced cell designs and manufacturing have the potential to lower total costs per watt and enable faster growth of the mono c-Si wafer market.
If the technologies prove successful, NPD Solarbuzz forecasts mono c-Si cell production will grow at a faster rate than multi c-Si cells beginning in 2015, expanding into more applications and increasing market share.