Portable solar power systems: Growing supply chain props up industry

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China’s portable solar power systems segment is benefiting heavily from substantial investment in PV cells and related products. The latter is driven by the rapid growth of the worldwide solar power industry, which has registered more than 40 percent CAGR in the past 10 years.

More importantly, it has resulted in a bustling support chain that supplies a range of modules, main controllers, batteries and inverters, enabling most manufacturers to purchase the key components domestically. The country’s output of PV cells in 2008 surpassed 2000MW, accounting for 37 percent of global production.

Makers are also taking advantage of falling costs, specifically of silicon solar cells. The component has dropped by 40 to 50 percent over the past six months and is now about $2 per watt.

Costs are expected to slide further to $1.10 or $1.20 by 4Q09.

Such projections are critical in procurement given that most portable PV power systems from China use silicon cells, which have a power conversion rating of 18 to 19 percent.

The use of thin-film cells, however, is forecast to surpass that of silicon types because of lower production costs, which average $1 to $2 per watt. The former can convert only 4 to 9 percent of energy but are said to work despite low-light environments. Thin-film cells can also be integrated into different surfaces such as windows and clothing.

There are now more than 40 thin-film solar cell makers globally. In China, at least nine new investment projects are underway, targeting a capacity of 900MW per year.

Meanwhile, solar cells based on other technologies such as copper indium gallium diselenide or CIGS and gallium arsenide or GaAS are still in the early stages of industrialization.

This steady development of related technologies is spurring vertical integration in the portable solar power systems line. As such, some suppliers can now produce many of the necessary parts and components in their manufacturing facilities.

Companies turn out between $30,000 and $200,000 worth of products monthly. More than 90 percent of the line is exported, mainly to Europe, the US and Africa. Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces are the key hubs, where more than 100 providers of PV cells and panels are likewise based.

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