Abound Solar Seeks To Take On First Solar

In reaction to the growing global solar industry, cadmium telluride thin-film manufacturer Abound Solar announced today that it has big plans to scale up its manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The company has closed a $400 million Department of Energy loan guarantee and $110 million equity investment and will use the funds to expand its existing manufacturing line in Colorado and build a new larger facility in Tipton, Indiana.

Abound Solar has an interesting history, having grown out of the Collaboratory, a collaboration of public and private efforts that brought together the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University (CSU) and the University of Colorado, Boulder.  RenewableEnergyWorld.com profiled the company and the R&D partnerships back in 2008, when it was known as AVA solar.

After the company finishes tripling its 65-MW production line in Colorado, it will move on to the construction of a 640-MW line in Tipton, Indiana.  The company announced that is has leased a 781,750 square foot abandoned transmission manufacturing facility in the region.  Getrag Transmission, the former occupier of the facility declared bankruptcy in 2009, leaving the facility empty.  Abound’s leasing of the space is further evidence of solar companies resurrecting former auto parts plants, as Jennifer Kho reported in Oct. 2009. 

The reason for Abound Solar’s big push to scale up manufacturing is, of course, economies of scale.  The company expects to build and ship 30 MW of modules this year, according to Director of Marketing Mark Chen. But the global market is growing quickly and Abound wants to use its contracts with German companies juwi and Wirsol to continue to tap into that growth. Chen said that more than 90% of the company’s modules are exported to key markets like Germany, Italy and France. Yesterday, Ucilia Wang reported that the U.S. is a net exporter of solar energy equipment.

Cost is key to success in the current market, he said.  The more the company can drive down its cost, the better positioned it will be to gain marketshare.  First Solar the largest solar module manufacturer in the world also uses cadmium telluride thin-film technology and has the lowest manufacturing costs.  “We have the technology to meet if not beat First Solar on manufacturing cost if we can get to scale and that’s what this loan guarantee and equity investment allows us to do,” Chen said.

The company said the new manufacturing facility, which is slated to begin construction in 2012, will employ about 1000 people.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com

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