- China is considering restricting export of key solar wafer production technology
- It has received responses to the proposal and is ‘seriously’ evaluating the same
- The export restriction is proposed for PV silicon wafer technology that’s central to solar panels
- The wafer equipment ban discussion flares up at at time the US is working on strengthening an export ban on semiconductor production equipment to China
China, the world’s largest supplier of solar PV technology, comprising vertically integrated processes of ingot to modules and also PV production equipment, may be looking at curbing their exports for certain production equipment at a time when the world needs more and faster deployment of solar power.
At the end of December 2022, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, along with the Ministry of Science and Technology sought to revise the Catalogue of Technologies Prohibited and Restricted for Export saying it needs to strengthen the management of technology import and export.
Of the total 139 products included, China plans to delete 32, modify 36 and add 7 new ones. The list mentions PV silicon wafer technology under item no 213106X that relates to large size silicon wafer, black silicon, ultra-high-efficiency ingot casting single crystalline, polycrystalline, technology and the like.
Public consultation was welcomed till January 28, 2023.
A Feb. 1 article in Asia Times was titled “China bans export of core solar panel technologies”, however, no decision from the Chinese government has been published so far. Responding to local media, the Director of the Comprehensive Department of the Ministry of Commerce, Yang Tao recently said the administration is evaluating responses received and will ‘seriously’ study them with relevant departments.
While China keeps its cards close, Bloomberg sees this move as the Asian giant trying to maintain its dominance in the wafer production technology space globally, which is close to 100% for solar wafers, as the US, India and Europe attempt to develop a vertically integrated local supply chain for solar technology. Indeed, after former leader in wire-saw equipment manufacturing, Meyer Burger from Switzerland stopped this business line to move into cell/module production, Chinese companies are the only producers of wire saws for the solar industry. CZ-pullers, the crystal growth equipment of monocrystalline ingots, the base material for solar wafers, is also only produced by Chinese companies.
As western solar ingot/wafer manufacturers rely on Chinese production equipment, the discussion about an export ban for these machines is only fueling the motivation of the US, India and Europe to get less dependent on solar supplies from China. Meyer Burger’s CEO Gunter Erfurt commented on Twitter, “‘China bans export of core solar panel technologies’ and Western solar buyers continue to naively fall into the trap. I have the feeling that we in the West only look where we can get something ‘cheapest’. And then, of course, pay massively for it later.”
At the same time, Chinese suppliers have been facing severe challenges of exporting their modules in a few major solar markets due to US trade policies and its ban on Xinjiang produced polysilicon, as well as from India’s basic customs duty (BCD).
However, the reason for the wafer export ban discussion flaring up in public now is probably related to developments in a different industry. Taken up by international media after discussion started on this topic in Chinese social media a few weeks ago, it seems to be a signal from China to the US government’s efforts on extending an export ban on production equipment for semiconductor chips and other high-tech exports to the Asian nation. On Jan. 30, CNN published on its website that “ASML, a Dutch maker of semiconductor equipment, says ‘rules are being finalized’ on export controls, amid reports that the Netherlands and Japan have joined the United States in restricting sales of some computer chip machinery to China. CNN quoted ASML as saying “It is our understanding that steps have been made towards an agreement between governments which, to our understanding, will be focused on advanced chip manufacturing technology, including but not limited to advanced lithography tools.” But, “Before it will come into effect it has to be detailed out and implemented into legislation which will take time.”