In 2005 China’s newly and accumulatively installed PV power generating capacity was a mere 5 MW and 70 MW, only accounting for 0.36% and 1.35% of the global total, respectively. In 2017, however, the country’s newly installed PV power generating capacity reached 53 GW, representing 39% of the national total newly installed power generating capacity or more than 50% of the global annual increment, the world’s biggest increase for five consecutive years, and China’s PV industry has completed the transformation from following to leading others.
These achievements are inseparable from the efforts of a number of Chinese enterprises, of which GCL Group is an outstanding representative. In the past, the raw materials and market of China’s PV industry are both reliant on and subject to the outside world. Today, the country has become a global leader in this industry in terms of scale and technology.
GCL-Poly, a company under the GCL Group, provides more than 20% and more than 25% of the world’s polysilicon and silicon chips, enjoying the biggest global market share. GCL New Energy Holdings Limited has built and put into operation 158 PV power stations with a total installed capacity of more than 6 million KW, ranking second in the world. In January 2018 Zhu Gongshan Chairman of GCL Group, was elected Chairman of the Global Solar Council, being the first Chinese citizen to assume this position.
“I have a dream to bring green power to life,” Zhu often says. Technology is the secret weapon that makes the dream come true. “We believe sci-tech innovation drives green development and with the progress of technology and the rapid development of the industry, it won’t be too long before the dream of realizing grid parity and bringing green power to thousands of households becomes a reality, ” he says confidently.
Sci-tech Drives Grid Parity for PV Power
It took Jiangsu Zhongneng, an enterprise affiliated to GCL-Poly, only 13 months to break foreign technical blockade and build a 1500 t/annum production line that normally takes foreign companies 3 years even under mature technical conditions. The capacity of this production line was half of the national total at that time.
With the 6000 t/annum and 10,000 t/annum production lines that followed, the company established its global hegemony in the industry and became the largest polysilicon production and R&D base in the world, a legend that is hard to replicate in the PV industry. All these were achieved in just five years!
By virtue of two unique technologies GCL became the global leader in the field of polysilicon. The first is “GCL rod-like silicon” and the second is “FBR Fluidized bed reactor.” The former belongs to the fourth-generation independently developed technology based on the improved SIEMENS method and involves a number of internationally advanced core technologies including the chlorohydrating technology. The latter is a technology with independent IPR and has been mastered by only three companies in the world so far. The scale of monomer is the largest in the world, with lower energy consumption and more cost advantages.
Standing at a higher starting point with a clearer development path, GCL takes sci-tech innovation and technological upgrading as the top priority. At present, GCL-Poly is leading the industry to accelerate its march into the “black silicon age.” Through technical transformation, the company reduces production cost by 8%-10% per year and drives the whole industry to improve efficiency. In 2017 the company commercialized the TS + Black silicon wafer, a new product that uses the latest generation of wet black silicon technology, improving the battery efficiency by 0.3-0.4 percentage point and bringing profound changes to the polycrystalline technology route or even to the entire polysilicon industry.
In April 2018 GCL-Poly announced that it would build a 20 GW monocrystalline silicon rod project in Yunnan to mass produce CCz constant czochralski monosilicon technology for the first time in the industry. Compared with the mainstream RCz technology used in the industry, the CCz technology improves production efficiency by more than 140% and reduces unit-product power consumption by 20% at least. Moreover, as FBR’s high quality granular silicon products can be used as the best material for CCz, the superposition of these two new technologies will further enhance the technical barrier. Currently, GCL-Poly is the only company in the world that owns the two advanced technologies of FBR and CCz at the same time.
The production of one kilogram of polysilicon cost $165 and 165 KWH of electricity in 2007, but less than $10 and 25 KWH today using the FRB fluidized bed method. At that time, the photoelectric conversion efficiency of polysilicon modules was only 13.5%-14.5% but now the average efficiency of polycrystalline PERC battery has risen to 20.8% after years of efforts. Sci-tech has made GCL “a tiger with wings.” Through sci-tech innovation, GCL-Poly reduces its production cost by 8%-10% per year, continuously benefiting the downstream industry chain and promoting grid parity for PV power.
In 2016, GCL Group put forward the industry’s first grid parity roadmap: By 2019, the cost of PV power generation should be equal to that of nuclear power in the central and western regions, and to that of gas-fired power generation in the eastern region, or RMB 0.5-0.55/KWH, to make green power affordable and available for ordinary families.
On April 22, 2018, a listed of recommended investment companies was released for the Pacesetter Project of Photovoltaic Power Generation Applications in Delingha, Qinghai Province, according to which the feed-in PV power tariff reported by GCL was only RMB 0.32/KWH thanks to the application of the “black silicon + PERC polycrystalline technology.”
New Achievements Made in Intelligent Manufacturing
At the wafer cutting workshop of Suzhou GCL Photovoltaic Technology Co., Ltd., various production data are shown on different screens. Here, one sorting machine is connected to as many as 6 servers. This is the largest production base of polysilicon wafers in the world. Thanks to technological innovation and intelligent manufacturing, 1.53 billion silicon wafers were produced here in 2017 and exported to all parts of the world, a year-on-year increase of more than 35%.
The silicon wafer cutting workshop of Funing GCL Photovoltaic Technology Co., Ltd. is on the just-announced list of “first batch of demonstrative intelligent workshops in Jiangsu Province in 2018.” So far, the 40GW silicon wafer production capacity of GCL-Poly, the world’s leading manufacturer of polysilicon and silicon wafers, has completely realized intelligent manufacturing.
This is only a small part of GCL Group’s sci-tech innovation achievements. Since the company is the leader in green energy development, even a small step forward it makes in sci-tech innovation could mean a big upgrade of the whole industry.
At the intelligent manufacturing workshops of GCL Photovoltaic Technology Co Ltd in Suzhou and GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd in Zhangjiagang, the production efficiency has been increased by 50%, the number of workers has been reduced by 60%, and the production cost has been cut by 30%, blowing the horn of intelligent manufacturing of new-energy equipment. With greatly improved level of lean manufacturing, the two bases were respectively awarded the titles of “133” Jiangsu Provincial Model Project of Intelligent Manufacturing and “Intelligent Dark Factory.”
In November 2017, Jiangsu Xinhua Semiconductor Material Technology Co., Ltd. under GCL Group put into operation a 5000t/annum electronic-grade polysilicon material production line, filling up another domestic gap in this field. The purity of electronic-grade polysilicon is required to be above 99.99%, which is the highest purity that can ever be achieved by any human industry so far, extremely demanding for design, construction, and production process. GCL organized a research team of more than 500 people from home and abroad to overcome the severe technical challenge. After 317 production experiments and 629 improvements in technology and equipment over a period of 3 years, the company successfully produced up-to-standard electronic grade polysilicon, which will end China’s decades of reliance on foreign supply of this material.
More than 5520 polysilicon pictures show a defect recognition rate of over 99.9%. On the afternoon of March 2, the technical problem of precision detection of defects in polysilicon cell components that had plagued the PV industry for more than 10 years was eventually conquered by a research team jointly established by GCL Artificial Intelligence Research Institute and Zhangjiagang GCL System Integration Technology Co Ltd.
“Having beset the PV industry for more than a decade, this technical obstacle is finally removed by the GCL research team after three months’ of hard work, which is really a scientific miracle,” said Liu Zhenchun, vice president of GCL Central Research Academy and director Artificial Intelligence Research Branch of the institute. When mature, this technology can be used not only for PV component recognition but also for the recognition of semiconductor and other components that require more accurate and more sophisticated recognition so as to upgrade the green intelligent manufacturing industry.
“Technology must be industrialized as soon as possible.” To this end, Dr. Zhang Chun, an expert in the field of crystalline silicon solar cells returned to China, giving up the opportunity of teaching at the Australian National University. In early 2018, as CTO of GCL System Integration Technology Co., Ltd., he led a research team to create another scientific miracle: the mass-production conversion efficiency of polycrystalline black silicon PERC cells reached 20.8%, a new world record which is at least 0.5 percentage point higher than that of the nearest rival.
Innovation is the biggest motive power and talent is the most important resource. GCL Group has set up an expert committee consisting of a number of CAS and CAE academicians was well as some experts included in the national Thousand Talents Plan. The Group has also launched a “Hundred Talents Plan,” according to which the top-100 experts will enjoy GCL’s highest pay for technical personnel, share the high-quality scientific and technological resources of the group, and constitute its first echelon of technology talents.
Enterprises are not only the key player in a market economy but also the main driver of technological innovation. For GCL, technological innovation is the source of power for sustainable development. The Group spends at least 3% of its annual revenue on innovation, owning nearly 2000 patents and IPRs, in which more than 10 technologies have filled up domestic gaps and reached the world-leading level. It has led or participated in the formulation more than 50 national and industrial standards, taking a leading position in the global PV industry.
The Group’s global innovation and R&D system has taken shape and is being improved. It has established a central research academy, a design and research institute, a strategic research center, 10 research branches, and more than 50 national and provincial R&D laboratories. World-class R&D centers and incubators have also been set up in the United States, Japan, Israel, China and other places. All these will enable China’s PV industry to realize industrial autonomy with world-leading technologies.