SolarWorld Boosts Manufacturing in Oregon

U.S. solar panel industry leader SolarWorld today announced plans to increase capacity from 380 MW to 530 MW, and to boost advanced cell manufacturing capacity at its Hillsboro, Oregon plant by 100 MW, adding 200 jobs at the location, which will grow to 900 employees. The Bonn-based company also manufactures in the German cities of Freiberg and Arnstadt. “The factory will remain the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The company views this expansion as a stepping-stone to 630 MW capacity in the near future,” SolarWorld said.

Mukesh Dulani, the U.S. president of SolarWorld Industries Americas Inc., who took his position earlier this year, said, “We will increase production in Oregon in 2015 and slowly ramp up. We can compete with any company, domestic or foreign, on a level playing field.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee attributed part of the survival and growth of SolarWorld to the action of federal investigation into Chinese dumping calling the announced expansion “a textbook case of how enforcing American trade laws can help create family-wage manufacturing trade jobs.”

SolarWorld has been a leader in the U.S. based solar industry in its battle against subsidized Chinese panel makers. Relief came in July through a U.S. Commerce Department tariff for a host of Chinese companies. At the time, the company “commended the U.S. Department of Commerce’s determination to impose preliminary anti-dumping import duties averaging about 42 percent on crystalline silicon solar panels made by the state-controlled Chinese solar industry from solar cells fabricated in third countries using Chinese inputs and about 36 percent on solar cells made in Taiwan.”

As a result of the tariffs, a widespread “Made in America” campaign has circulated through the U.S. solar market. In addition to price, the campaign focuses on higher quality from U.S. manufacturers that facilitates bankability in project finance. SolarWorld also is a founding member of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing that supports U.S. made solar products; the group now counts 250 U.S. manufacturer members.

SolarWorld itself touts its panels as “Solar made in America, by Americans, since 1975.” SolarWorld indicates that it has purchased more than $1.4 billion in equipment, parts, services and supplies from 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico since 2008, and lists purchases by U.S. state on its website.

In June, the company announced commercial scale manufacturing volume of its 280-Watt, 60-cell mono-crystalline Sunmodule, and projected that, “Beginning in the second half of 2014, SolarWorld expects 280-Watt solar panels to represent the majority of production at its Hillsboro facility.” The Sunmodule raises yield in the standard 60-cell panel by 30 Watts, through the use of “advanced light-capture and energy-conversion technologies.” The company also stated the goal of reaching 300 Watts in a 60-cell configuration.

During the recent SPI 2014 solar show in Las Vegas, SolarWorld was awarded $4 million by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program to enhance its silicon mono-crystallization technology with the aim of increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic cells.

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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