Chinese giant doubles down on cell production expansion

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When Chinese solar manufacturer JA Solar announced less than seven weeks ago that its ambitious production expansion plans would be ‘periodically reviewed’ and ‘subject to market conditions’, it would have been natural to presume the board was covering its back in the case of any sudden downturn in a still-volatile domestic market.

Not so, it seems. Despite coronavirus having knocked a dent in Chinese economic performance by ravaging provinces including Zhejiang – where JA Solar has been laying plans for its new production facilities – the company has now said it will go even further and faster.

The RMB2.78 billion ($397 million) plan to develop 5 GW of annual cell production capacity in the Zhejiang city of Yiwu has, as of yesterday afternoon, become a RMB6.38 billion investment for 10 GW of cell production lines.

Bigger wafers

The higher cost of the latest capacity expansion could indicate the fab planned will be producing more expensively-tooled heterojunction (HJT) products but JA Solar would not comment on such speculation and confirmed to pv magazine only that the new facilities would be set up for 210mm wafers.

The manufacturer said the previously announced RMB3.82 billion plans for 10 GW of annual module production, also at the Yiwu site, were unchanged and revealed the first 5 GW of cell and module output capacity would be in place next year with full roll-out the following year.

JA Solar said it would bankroll its increasingly ambitious production targets with its own cash, contributions from shareholders and commercial borrowing.

Re-tooled

And the production announcements did not stop there, with the Beijing-based manufacturer also outlining plans to retool up to 3.6 GW of its cell production lines in Ningjin to handle bigger wafers. The retrofit program, due to be wrapped up within eight months, is set to cost the company a further RMB1.13 billion. JA Solar did not specify whether the upgraded lines would be set up for 166mm or 210mm wafers.

Ranked one of the world’s five biggest module manufacturers by shipment volume for five years running, JA Solar had annual silicon wafer, cell and module production capacities of 8.4 GW, 7.3 GW and 8.1 GW, respectively, at the end of 2018.