Hangzhou First PV Material produces ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) films and flouropolymer back sheets and is located in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. Hangzhou First PV Material has more than 500 employees and sales revenue of $67 million. According to the Hangzhou First PV Material’s prospectus, before 2008, STR Solar, Mitsui Chemicals, Bridgestone, and Solutia (Etimex) were the dominant companies producing EVA film – taking 60% of the global market share. Hangzhou First PV Material exceeded Bridgestone and Solutia, and became one of the top three suppliers in 2008. In 2010, the company claimed 25% of the EVA market share; its primary customers are Suntech, Yingli Green Energy, Trina, and Jinko Solar, some of the largest module manufacturers in the world. The company experienced a net profit growth rate of 252.34%, 346%, and 10.76% in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively, according to the company’s annual report. This decelerating profit growth, reaching $94 million in 2011, is due to slower growth in the broader solar market, according to the company. Hangzhou First PV Material priced their EVA film at an average of $2.41/m2 in 2011, including a 37.26% gross profit margin (GM).This price is between $0.4/m2 and $1/m2 cheaper than EVA made in Europe or the U.S. (see the report “Module Cost Structure Update: Path to Profitability” — client registration required). Although market conditions are less than ideal for the greater solar industry, the tight-lipped Hangzhou First PV Material has been able to swim against the current. The company hopes to issue approximately 58.1 million shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange to raise $179 million to ramp an EVA film production line with an annual output of 180 million m2, a backsheet production line with annual output of 2 million m2, and a PV material research center.
Historically, module manufacturers have chosen encapsulants based on the lowest cost, rather than performance, as long as modules pass IEC and UL certification tests; as a result, EVA has dominated the encapsulant market. Still, silicones, thermoplastics, and polyolefin encapsulants continue to compete with EVA. Dow Chemical started production of its ENLIGHT polyolefin encapsulant (client registration required) in Thailand in August aiming to replace EVA. Similarly, Wacker Chemie has rolled out a silicone-based thermoplastic film that claims better transparency and faster lamination times at a similar price to incumbent EVA suppliers (i.e., $3/m2 to 3.50/m2). While encapsulant suppliers with alternatives to EVA claim better performance and/or faster lamination times, success will ultimately come down to cost and how easy it is for module manufacturers to transition from EVA to the new encapsulant. Polyolefins have potential to be less expensive than EVA and Wacker’s silicone-based film can increase efficiency – which can reduce the overall cost-per-watt of the module – but capacity needs to ramp up in locations near module manufacturers to compete with players like Hangzhou First PV Material.