Popular polysilicon to ensure panels advance

Lower grade solar photovoltaic polysilicon is expected to drive strong global demand for the material this year – with continued spinoffs for panel efficiency.

NPD Solarbuzz

Demand for polysilicon used in solar and semiconductor applications is expected to rise sharply to 282,000 metric tons in 2014, up 25 per cent versus last year.

According to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly report, the growth in demand for polysilicon is being driven by the rapid increase in end-market solar photovoltaic module shipments, which are now expected to reach approximately 49 gigawatts this year.

Figure 1: Polysilicon demand

Graph for Popular polysilicon to ensure panels advance

Source: NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly

Polysilicon used for semiconductor applications typically requires very high purity of 11N (99.999999999 per cent) and very low levels of contaminants. Semiconductor polysilicon is a high value-added segment, but future demand growth in this mature market is only expected to be modest.

In contrast, solar PV-grade polysilicon has less stringent purity requirements, but it has the potential for very high growth rates when solar panel demand is strong; however, the growth trajectory in polysilicon supply and end-market demand is not always directly correlated.

It may take three to six months after polysilicon is produced for it to be converted into wafers and cells, and then shipped as finished modules through distribution channels for installation. This lag time can push polysilicon demand higher than module demand, in a rapidly expanding market.

“Conversely, the amount of silicon required per watt at the module level has been declining steadily each year,” said Charles Annis, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz. “Solar supply chain companies have lowered the number of grams-per-watt by reducing wafer thickness and kerf loss, increasing yields in all manufacturing steps, reducing module loss, and continuously raising panel efficiency.”

Between 2005 the end of 2014, the average amount of silicon used in a solar module will fall by 55 per cent, to approximately 5g per watt. This trend is expected to continue, though at a slower rate, as many of the material reduction steps implemented to decrease polysilicon consumption have now been exhausted.

Robust end-market solar PV demand continues to drive polysilicon production levels. This, in turn, raises module efficiencies and reduces costs, which will remain important priorities across the entire solar PV supply chain, in order to increase profitability in 2014 and stimulate increased end market demand in future years.

Originally published on NPD Solarbuzz. Reproduced with permission.