Sunny Prospects for “Solar Valley”
Opening a production plant is nothing unusual for an ambassador. Nonetheless, the appointment in Germany’s “Solar Valley” between Frankfurt/Oder, Dresden and Halle left US Ambassador William R. Timken highly impressed: “In the course of my career I have opened more than 40 factories, but I have never experienced such a strong sense of optimism about the future as I have here today,” said Timken. The top diplomat had traveled from Berlin to Frankfurt/Oder to be present at the opening of the new First Solar production plant. Bruch Sohn, the President of First Solar, explained that the listed US company has invested 115 million euros in the “world’s most modern” plant for thin-film solar cells. The decision in favor of producing in eastern Germany “is a decisive step in our company’s history”. It is also a decision that more and more investors from the United States and Canada are making: at least ten solar plants founded by North American firms are currently being constructed in Germany or will shortly begin producing solar modules. Investments in the last two years alone amount to far more than 300 million euros. Some 3,500 jobs have been created by North American businesses.
Enlarge image (© dpa/Juergen Loesel)
The First Solar Factory
The First Solar factory is responsible for 400 of these new jobs. The plant immediately launched production with a major order. “We have supplied a total of 550,000 modules for the construction of the world’s largest solar power plant in Brandis near Leipzig,” explains Vice President of Global Manufacturing Heiner Eichermüller. The 40-megawatt plant is currently being built on an area of roughly 200 football fields and is planned to start supplying electricity at the end of 2009. The production capacity of the First Solar plant is three times this amount. The company is also supplying expanding markets in other European countries from its Frankfurt/Oder base.
The most important reason for choosing the location, explains President Bruce Sohn, was the “favorable investment climate created in Germany as a result of the solid promotion of environmentally friendly energy sources by the Renewable Energies Act (EEG)”. Other important factors were the availability of qualified and motivated personnel, the excellent infrastructure and “great support from local, state and federal authorities”. The operating license was granted without any bureaucratic hurdles. Sohn does not see the sometimes “very strict German environmental regulations” as an obstacle to investment. After all, First Solar itself has made a “major commitment to environmental protection”.
Enlarge image (© dpa/Juergen Loesel) Other Factories: EverQ, Signet Solar & Nanosolar
Marc Faber, Vice President of Evergreen Solar, is also putting his trust in Germany as a production location. “We have enormous opportunities here and were welcomed with open arms.” The second EverQ solar module plant began operating in Thalheim, Saxony-Anhalt, in the middle of June. Some 900 new jobs are being created in the joint venture involving Evergreen Solar, German company Q-Cells, and Renewable Energy Corporation from Norway. “Due to the high demand, we are already thinking about an additional factory,” says Faber.
Another US company is aiming to set a new record in the field of solar electricity: Signet Solar plans to produce the world’s largest thin-film solar modules, measuring 2.2 by 2.6 meters, in Germany. They are to be produced in Döbeln near Dresden from the middle of 2008. The firm is investing 50 million euros in a production facility and a research and development center. There are plans for 130 new jobs. The decision in favor of a location in Saxony was due to the know-how available in the region and support from economic development agencies. Signet Solar was able to gain US manufacturer Applied Materials as a partner in the new plant. The producer of semiconductor equipment already has an operation in Dresden.
Nanosolar, a company headquartered in Palo Alto, is also coming to Germany’s new federal states. A production plant for solar modules is being set up in Luckenwalde near Berlin. The firm wants to create 100 new jobs at its first European production facility. Nanosolar has developed a low-cost roll-print production process for thin-film solar cells. The investors also include the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “The region around the capital city Berlin has major solar research institutes with which we would like to collaborate,” is how CEO Martin Roscheisen explains the choose of location.
Canada Joins the Game
Companies from Canada have also discovered Germany as a center of the solar industry. “We decided in favor of Germany because it is the largest solar market in the world and offers highly qualified specialist personnel,” explained Ian MacLellan, President and CEO of Arise Technologies Corporation, at the opening of a new production plant near Bischofswerda. The Canadian solar firm is establishing a production facility for solar cells with an annual capacity of 80 megawatts. The listed company plans to invest 50 million euros in the first two production lines alone. In all, 300 new jobs will be created, 100 of them next year.
The growing number of producers is also making Germany an interesting production location for North American components suppliers. Canadian firm 5N Plus recently announced that it will begin operating a processing plant for the materials used in thin-film cell production in Eisenhüttenstadt by 2008. It seems the present boom in “Solar Valley” is set to continue well into the future.