The return of big foreign players

In late January 2018, the US-based First Solar officially announced its return to Vietnam and the decision to build one more plant to double production capacity. The first plant, covering an area of 100,000 square meters, will become operational in the fourth quarter this year with the annual capacity of 1.2 GW.

First Solar’s comeback after seven years of interruption, according to analysts, was kicked off by the 40 percent growth rate of the solar panel market in recent years.

Along with the breakthrough in thin-film battery technology, the company has succeeded in making Series 6 panels, with efficiency higher by 30 percent and production cost lower by 45 percent than previous generations.

The second plant is under construction and is scheduled to put out Series 6 panel products by mid-2019. With the total investment capital of $830 million, the two plants of First Solar would have total capacity of 2.4 GW a year.

In 2016, thin-film panels accounted for 6 percent of the world’s market share. First Solar is the biggest manufacturer in the field. Thin-film panel has witnessed a jump in photo energy conversion performance in the last 10 years to 18 percent.

Chan See Chong of First Solar affirmed that the latest technology allows the company’s panels to become competitive with traditional products.

If compared with thin-film panel, crystal-lie silicon panel, particularly mono crystal-lie, is believed to have higher photo energy conversion performance. This explains why 94 percent of solar panels in the world are made with the technology.

Having experienced and qualified R&D staff, SolarBK is the only Vietnamese company to join the solar panel market. The company focuses on making silicon crystal-lie panels to take full advantage of the technology and Vietnam’s geographical position which is near China and Taiwan, the world’s biggest photovoltaic equipment manufacturing centers.

After many efforts, SolarBK started the first phase of its panel production project with the capacity of 450 MW in early 2017.

As such, to date, only two players have joined the game, one foreign and one Vietnamese company. The modest number is blamed on the big R&D barrier, especially to Vietnamese enterprises.

Analysts commented that the two technologies would not eliminate each other, but will offer more choices to customers and serve different market segments.

While thin-film panels with low costs are suitable to large-scale projects, silicon crystal-lie panels would fit smaller projects, especially household-run solar power systems.

VietNamNet Bridge - February 20, 2018