PV Industry Needed 19% More Silver In 2017

Photovoltaic Industry Demanded Record High Of 94.1 Moz Silver Due To 24% Rise In Installations, According to World Silver Survey 2018
12:13 AM (Beijing Time) - 30. April 2018
silver

Direction China: While much of the silver supply chain for PV - powder and paste fabrication - is still outside China that will change as manufacturers want to be closer to cell production facilities, according to the World Silver Survey 2018.

Key Takeaways

  • Silver powder production for the PV industry by 19% increased in 2017 to 94.1 Moz, from 79.3 Moz in 2016, according to the World Silver Survey 2018
  • The major part (76%) was used for frontside paste of solar cells' electrical contacts, the rest for backside paste
  • Front side paste production is expected to transfer further to China from Taiwan and the United States over the next few years as China leads the world in solar cell production capacity
  • In the long-term, the report says that the improvement in efficiencies will reduce the use of silver required to produce 1 watt but this is unlikely to have a noticeable effect in the short term due to the strong momentum in demand for solar energy

The solar PV industry placed orders for 19% more silver in 2017 than it did in 2016. Silver demand from solar grew to a record high of 94.1 million ounces (Moz), equal to 2,926 tons, last year, thanks to a 24% rise in solar system installations, according to the World Silver Survey 2018, which was produced by Thomson Reuters’ GFMS for the Silver Institute.

In 2016, the world total silver powder production for the PV industry was 79.3 Moz, in 2015, it was 59.2 Moz,, the demand for silver from solar PV industry was an increase of 34%. PV is the largest sector consuming silver after photography (see graph).

While the use of silver in photograph continues its slight decrease, the second largest industry using silver, solar, continues to use more solar despite improvements in cell and metallization technology. (source: The Silver Insitute / Thomson Reuters)
While the use of silver in photography continues its slight decrease, the second largest industry using silver, solar, continues to use more silver despite improvements in cell and metallization technology. (source: The Silver Insitute / Thomson Reuters)

Silver is mainly used in solar cells in the form of paste, which forms the front and back electrical contact. In 2017, as per the survey estimates, 76% of silver demand was used in frontside paste, the remaining part for backside paste. In 2016 and 2015, the use on the frontside was 81% and 75%, respectively.

According to the report, total silver demand from the industry is measured based on annual solar cell production, with no adjustments made for lead times. Production typically exceeds installations in a given year due to a range of factors, namely lead times, cell breakage, and overproduction to maintain cost competitiveness. Solar cell production was estimated at 96.8 GW last year, roughly 6% higher than installations. This margin remained stable compared to 2016.

Silver, silver powder, silver paste

GFMS measures country-level silver demand from the PV industry at the first point of transformation, when silver is fabricated to make silver powder. According to the report, silver powder is then used to make silver paste, which is then deployed on the solar cell. Last year, the Chinese silver powder producers were in cooperation with the Japanese producers to establish new powder factories in China. It is expected that the quality of silver powder produced in China will become competitive to silver powder produced in foreign countries and therefore demand for foreign silver powder is expected to decrease.

Moving to China to be closer to cell production

Over the past few years, as solar cell production grew exponentially in China, silver paste production migrated to China and Taiwan, where a combined 89% of solar cells are produced, said GFMS. Silver paste used by the PV industry is now mainly made in Taiwan, the United States, South Korea and China. About 80% of China’s frontside silver paste requirements are imported, while Chinese paste producers fulfil all domestic backside paste needs, according to the report.

GFMS also expects that front side paste production will be transferred to China from Taiwan and the United States over the next few years, to be closer to solar cell production facilities. At present, Taiwan and the United States account for a combined 64% of front silver paste production, while China accounts for 13%. Meanwhile, China accounted for 70% of global solar cell production last year.

Outlook

According to the report, production-weighted average silver loadings per cell are estimated to have remained stable at 0.13 grams/W. However, GFMS noted that technology improved last year, the impact of which will start to be felt in 2018. Last year’s average industrial efficiency rate was 19%, but it is expected that the efficiency rate will gradually increase in the coming years, it said.

In the long-term, GFMS believes that the improvement in efficiencies will reduce the use of silver required to produce 1 watt but is unlikely to have a noticeable effect in the short term due to the strong momentum in demand for solar energy and the time required to adopt new technologies for commercial usage.

To download the report, click here.

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