pv magazine: Mr. Qu, you started Canadian Solar in 2001. Having been in the solar PV industry for nearly two decades now, how has your business philosophy and the company’s approach toward the technology evolved over time?
Shawn Qu: I got my Ph. D studying semiconductors in Canada in 1995 and got my start in the PV industry in 1996. Somehow, nearly a quarter of a century has passed since I have been in the sector – I have witnessed it grow from being a very small industry to it now being mainstream with Canadian Solar being one of the main players. My business philosophy hasn’t changed much – it stays the same, which is to focus on being a Tier 1 company in technology, customer service, and developed business models. The focus has always been to be a Tier 1 company, not necessarily number one in shipments. Lots of companies have come and gone, but Canadian Solar has remained a front-running leader in terms of technology development. Starting back with the development of 4-inch cells, and moving to 5-, and then 6-inch, we have always been the first mover in larger cells; and also in half-cut cells. But this also goes to specific technologies such as PERC in both mono- and multicrystalline. Next year, we are going to introduce our commercial heterojunction technologies. Technology is always the center of our focus.
There is what seems to be an arms race among module manufacturers to see who can build the largest ‘life-size’ modules. What makes this module stand out among competition in the industry?
Shawn Qu: We didn’t join the race. We have always been a leader in larger, high-power modules to reduce LCOE, starting back in 2017-18. We were the first solar company to introduce solar modules with more than 400 watts of power. When we first showed those modules at some of the major tradeshows, such as Intersolar and SPI in 2018, our competitors went in circles around our modules and said ‘this is impossible. They can’t achieve 400 watts with polycrystalline. But of course, we did. We opened Pandora’s box, and then the race for the industry started. Now we are starting to see 500 W and 600 W solar modules. In a few days, we will be hosting a webinar with pv magazine where we will introduce our 600+ W modules. We are in the race, but not just joining. We are the company that started the race, and will always be a leader. (Register for the webinar here.)
We are seeing modules coming out with 800 W output. Are you planning on increasing the output even further in the coming months?
Shawn Qu: Our focus is on LCOE reduction. One day, when 800 W modules can achieve a lower LCOE, Canadian Solar will be there. Today, we launch 600+ W modules which optimize BOS to achieve lower LCOE; so this will be the focus on this product in 2020- 2021.
Alan Xu: It is not always wattage that matters; we cannot just say that 800 W will bring down the LCOE further than 600+W. We have done the research for around 20 formats of modules, but you have to look at the details of the components and balance of systems to determine what configuration lowers the LCOE the most. It is not true to say ‘the higher the power, the lower the LCOE.’ There are clear benefits of the 600+ W module – in what we can offer to our customers.
Can you quantify the balance of system cost savings that can be achieved by these modules? This is something that has been debated in the industry.
Alan Xu: Yes, actually we will be showing examples in the webinar with pv magazine next week with the comparison of two things. First, the project investment costs and BOS reduction costs. If you compare the tracker materials of Series 7 compared with our conventional 445 watt module, and also our Series 6, there are significant reductions. And then, there is a reduction in component and cable material costs. We will show the actual comparisons of savings to attendees on the webinar.
With implications that fall across the industry, how have you collaborated and worked with other partners across the solar sector in the design and development of the product?
Alan Xu: We finished the design in March of this year and spent six months working on the compatibility requirements with partners. Now, every major tracker company and inverter company, including central and string inverters, are all able to support our product. For inverters, Sungrow, SMA, Huawei, and Ginlong, and others are all giving us supporting letters to show that their products support our Series 7 modules. The same are doing major tracker manufacturers such as Nextracker, Array Technologies, Arctech, PVH, and Soltec. The whole industry can fully support this product.
Are there any problems with the shipping and logistics of these modules?
Alan Xu: Some people may say there is a boundary for the largest module you can get. We have found some more innovative methods to ship so that our customers don’t have to worry about it.
Some experts have claimed that these new larger modules allow manufacturers to reduce costs without introducing major technological innovations. What would you say about this claimed lack of technological innovation?
Shawn Qu: I don’t know what would qualify as major technology innovation. There are lots of different types of innovations – wafers, cells, ingot technologies, and processes. Most of the existing factories and existing machines were not able to produce these types of new solar modules. So, there is a lot of technology investment there. Canadian Solar will probably be the first to commercially introduce this series of products. There are not going to be many companies that will be able and can afford the investment required to upgrade their factories to produce this type of product.
What are the key prospects for innovations looking ahead for Canadian Solar?
Shawn Qu: You are going to see technology innovations in quite a few areas with Canadian Solar. Solar is just now getting adopted in every corner of the world – every country and city. Deployment is going to require a combination of technologies. First, we’ll be further improving module power and efficiency. Another major area of investment will be the technology to integrate solar with other renewable sources and energy storage. We just announced that we will be delivering a 70MW/300 MWh energy storage system to Goldman Sachs for a solar power plant. We are going to see solar-plus-storage become a 24/7 energy source. This will also allow solar players to participate in real-time energy trading, and more intelligent integration with the grid. This will be a major focus of ours.
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