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Alternative routes in the face of patent issue on shingled technology: high-density module technologies

Since 2018, module technologies have been developed rapidly. Today, half-cut technique has become a standard for module capacity expansion. Shingled module capacities are also increasing markedly from the beginning of this year. However, the patent issue facing shingled technology hinders it from entering into the end market. Except patent owners DZS Solar, Canadian Solar, and Seraphim that had exported more shingled modules, other shingled module makers mainly supplied to the Chinese market.    

Module technology capacity forecast

SunPower announced on July 31 that it has obtained patent rights of shingled technology in China. Although it’s a patent on technological process, it does not involve infringement as long as changes are made in design aspect, such as layout, cell-slicing, and electrically conductive adhesive (ECA). To some extent, SunPower’s patent ownership makes end users have doubts when purchasing such modules from other suppliers, causing certain impacts on their sales and marketing campaign.

Sunpower Shingled Module tech

Alternative routes of shingled technology

The products displayed at SNEC held in Shanghai in early June this year demonstrated that utilizing high-density module technologies is more viable for p-type modules to achieve higher power output apart from using high efficiency n-type cells.

However, after SunPower obtained a patent on shingled technology in China, is there a feasible alternative that can avoid patent infringement? The article will examine the high-density module technologies in detail.

SNEC expo showcases products with high module efficiency:

2019 SNEC High-eff Module

In general, high-density module technologies are categorized into two types:

  1. Connect cut-cells in an overlapping manner  

This category includes patent protected shingled technology as well as overlapping and superposition welding techniques, which improve active cell area through arranging cut-cells in an overlap manner. In terms of cell connection, shingled technique connects cells with ECA, whereas overlap and superposition welding techniques utilize elastic ribbons, which involve no patent issues.

  1. Connect cut-cells in a non-overlapping manner

Paving and narrowed spacing techniques promoted by Joy Energy and Jolywood, as well as HT Solar’s “plate-coupling,” which separates a module into two units of “plate,” belong to this type of technology. The three methods use special ribbons to tie cut-cells closely, narrowing the gap between cells or even make it gapless. That enables modules to incorporate higher number of cells in assembly. The “plate-coupling” technique not only reduces the gap between strings through interconnecting the plates (modules) but also active area as well as chances of generating hot spots because cells are not overlapped. Different from the former, paving technique uses triangular ribbon on the front side and highly elastic ribbon for the rear side, whereas narrowed spacing technique uses highly elastic ribbon for both sides.

High-eff module processing technology routine

Comparison of high-density module technologies

High-density module technologies are essentially designed to assemble as many solar cells as possible on a module area with limited potential for enlargement. But these module technologies have several differences worth noting:

  1. Equipment investment: Manufacturing shingled and paved modules requires new equipment, whereas adopting superposition welding and narrowed-spacing techniques calls for either using new machines or upgrading existing equipment  for half-cut cell manufacturing.
  2. Special BOM: Shingling technique requires the use of ECA although using such adhesive may result in patent infringements and high costs. Paving, superposition welding, and narrowed spacing designs all utilize elastic ribbons. In particular, triangular ribbons used for connecting cells on paved modules are thicker, making such module necessary to adopt a thicker front EVA assembly and thus incurring higher costs than superposition welding and narrowed spacing ones.
  3. Module area enlargement: Since both paving and narrowed spacing techniques allow small cell spacing, they help enlarge module areas to a greater extent than shingling or superposition welding.
  4. Patent issues: Shingled is, without a doubt, a patented technology. Paving technique requires Joy Energy’s equipment and triangular ribbons. That leaves us with superposition welding and narrowed spacing only; both entail no patent issues.

See below table for detailed comparison: 

 High-eff Module Technology comparison

Conclusion

Shingled technology has been tangled up with patent issues. Previously, many manufacturers developed shingled technique in China, exploiting the grey area where patent is not granted. However, SunPower has obtained a patent on shingled technology in China. Although this patent is granted for the process flow, the end market will inevitably have doubts about shingled modules offered by providers that do not hold such a patent. Presumably, this will affect sales and marketing campaigns of unpatented ones.

To p-type modules, high-density module technologies are great approaches to achieve high conversion efficiency. To avoid patent infringement, PV InfoLink argues that superposition welding, paving, and narrowed spacing are more viable alternatives.

Plenty of discussion is buzzing around high-density module technologies. But such module technologies’ roadmap remain uncertain, and they are still in their nascent stage, which takes time to mature. Yet, SunPower’s grant of patent rights may accelerate the development of high-density module technologies

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