Inside JinkoSolar’s US factory

Share

From pv magazine USA

Module factories don’t look like much from the outside; and JinkoSolar’s new facility in Jacksonville, Florida is no exception. The featureless grey concrete building lies 14 miles from downtown Jacksonville in an industrial park surrounded by pines, but the inside is what counts.

JinkoSolar has begun producing mono-PERC modules at the Jacksonville factory, which at 400 MW of annual production is the third-largest U.S. module factory by capacity, behind Tesla’s Buffalo gigafactory and First Solar’s Perryburg facility. It is also the first in a wave of new factories which have been announced following President Trump’s imposition of global tariffs under Section 201 and a tax reform process driven by the Republican Party. All told, pv magazine has confirmed four new factories are under construction or have come online, with a combined capacity of 3.8 GW.

Today the Chinese PV maker held a ribbon cutting ceremony with state and local officials to celebrate the factory, which Jinko says produced its first module in November and which is expected to be fully ramped in a couple of months. And it is here that we got to peek behind the curtain.

 

Novel designs

The factory is currently making 72-cell modules, and Jinko says that it will soon begin making 60-cell products as well. Current and future products will utilize 5-busbar mono-PERC cells from JinkoSolar’s Malaysia factory, based on 158.75 millimeter wafers. This is slightly larger than the typical size, but the most novel aspect is that these are fully square.

JinkoSolar declined to comment on the process used to make these wafers, as to whether these are sliced from standard monocrystalline ingots using the Czochralski (Cz) process, or from ingots cast in a “mono-like” process in DSS furnaces, which were originally intended and used for multi-crystalline wafers.

The square shape suggests the latter. The Cz process results in round ingots, and a fully square shape would mean more waste to be re-melted for future ingots than the semi-square shape which is standard for mono.

Either way, the fully square cells means JinkoSolar can squeeze out 5-10 watts due to more cell surface area, and Jinko states that its 72-cell mono-PERC modules are achieving power ratings as high as 400 watts.

In a few months, Jinko plans to begin making modules using half-cut cells at the factory. “The half-cut module will be the workhorse product here,” stated Nigel Cockroft, the general manager of JinkoSolar’s U.S. subsidiary.

 

A win for Jacksonville

The factory employs 200 workers, working in two shifts, and an estimated 600-700 workers have been involved between construction and ongoing operations. However, local officials feel that its benefit to the economic diversification of the region is well beyond that.

“Today’s ceremony is about the creation of good-paying, stable employment in a growing industry,” stated Florida Secretary of Commerce Jamal Sowell. “Florida has long been a destination for tourism, but now also for technology.”

Jacksonville has been identified as a strategic location near not only a port and rail infrastructure, but also near the service area of utility Florida Power & Light (FPL), which serves customers directly outside the city of Jacksonville. FPL has built a number of large solar plants, and plans to deploy 30 million solar panels by 2030, or roughly 10 GW.

A portion of Jinko’s output is going to FPL, and JinkoSolar’s Cockroft referenced “our good friends at FPL”, who were in attendance at the opening ceremony. JinkoSolar holds a 2.75 GW contract with FPL parent company NextEra, the largest PV module contract in the United States seen by pv magazine staff to date.

 

Technology advancing

JinkoSolar touts the Jacksonville factory as its most advanced, and revealed that it is the most highly automated in its fleet; even the junction boxes are attached by robots. The inside of the factory also shows the rise of Chinese tool makers, with labels from Chinese manufacturers on many products, and few Western brands.

The facility also plans to utilize artificial intelligence, beginning in the electroluminescence inspections, although this functionality is not up and running yet.

For a long time JinkoSolar was known as a low-cost leader among large Chinese PV makers, but now appears to be pursuing a somewhat different approach. The company is transitioning its entire monocrystalline silicon cell production to passivated emitter rear cell (PERC) technology, and is looking at bifacial products as well as half-cut designs.

“Innovation in technology is playing more and more of an important role in the industry,” noted Charlie Can, the chief financial officer of JinkoSolar. “It’s not all about cutting costs.”

 

All module makers with U.S. factories, as well as their products and capacities, now be seen in pv magazine USA’s new module maker directory.