LONGi Solar on technology, strategy and the European market
LONGi Solar is one of only eight of SolarPower Europe's over 200 members that have become active in our highest membership category as a Sponsor Member. The LONGi Group is the world's largest manufacturer of monocrystalline wafers and a leader in high-efficiency crystalline silicon solar cells and modules. We talked with LONGi Solar's VP Sales Gerald Muller - who has established and is leading LONGi Solar's European Headquarters in Frankfurt/Main, Germany - about the company, its strategy on high-quality monocrystalline technology, and its views on the European market.
SolarPower Europe: Congratulations. LONGi Solar just announced last week an impressive world record for crystalline silicon-based PERC solar cells.
GM: We are very happy that our R&D team was able to improve our former PERC solar cell record from October 2017 to 23.6%, a level that is close to the world record for any single junction c-Si cell technology. We completely focus on high-efficiency monocrystalline technology, which, according to our analysis, provides investors with the best levelled cost of electricity (LCOE). In the last five years, we have spent between 5-7% of our total revenues in R&D, probably more than almost any other solar company, as we are striving to contribute in making solar the lowest cost power generation source not only in a few regions but basically anywhere on this planet. We are currently quickly expanding production capacities of our new mono PERC bifacial module technology, which improves system output between 10 and 30% depending on location.
SolarPower Europe : LONGi makes cells and sells modules, but primarily you are a wafer manufacturer?
GM: A solar cell and module can be only as good as the incoming wafer substrate. At the end of last year, we had 15 GW mono wafer capacity - and around 50% of our capacity output we distribute to other cell/module manufacturers. With developers' interest in high-efficiency monocrystalline technology quickly increasing, and with many analysts expecting it to become the leading crystalline silicon variety soon, we have just announced to increase our wafer capacity to 45 GW by 2020. Also at that level, we plan to offer around half of our wafer products on the open market to provide other cell/module manufacturers with top quality mono wafers.
SolarPower Europe : Your main production is in China, but you are also expanding abroad.
GM: Well, China is by far the largest and most lucrative market. So it makes sense to have most of the manufacturing where most of the demand is. But the LONGi Group is constantly looking for new investment opportunities abroad as well if they make economic sense. Last year, in Malaysia, we acquired a wafer manufacturing facility and also set up a vertically-integrated gigawatt-level modules production. Just recently, we announced to build 1 GW cell and 1 GW module production capacity in India, which is growing very fast and is now the world's third largest market.
SolarPower Europe : What does the European market mean for LONGi?
GM: Europe has been playing a crucial role in helping solar to become the most attractive power generation source globally. We have started partnering with European developers, distributors and cell manufacturers, offering high-quality wafers and modules to enable lower LCOEs so solar can grow faster in this very competitive power sector in Europe. As the European Union has been working hard on its homework to master the energy transition and move towards a clean and flexible power market, we are optimistic about the future of solar in Europe. In a first step, we are building up our European sales and service office. As a highest-category sponsor member of SolarPower Europe we are actively supporting the critical work of the association for the European solar sector. If solar demand in Europe would grow significantly and sustainable regulatory framework conditions were economically attractive, we would be also looking into further investments, like we did in India.