Our local manufacturing operations will allow Suntech to meet the growing demands of customers throughout the Americas, including our dealer network with more than 400 partners. One advantage is that all modules produced at the facility are compliant for procurement in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects. Also, in the long term, regional manufacturing will help to minimize our exposure to rising oil and transportation costs.

Suntech Opens Solar Manufacturing Plant  in Arizona

Steven Chan, President | Suntech America


1.       What were some of the reasons Suntech selected Goodyear, Arizona as the location for the US plant?

Four states were on the short-list: Oregon, Texas, New York, and Arizona. In the end, we were most impressed by Arizona’s vision and commitment to making the state and the greater Phoenix area the solar capital of America and a major hub for the global solar industry. There is an excellent local workforce. Arizona has strong policies in place to promote the utilization and development of renewable energy technologies, including a target to meet 15% of energy consumption with renewable sources by 2025. Not to mention, there’s plenty of sunlight!
 
 

2.      
What do you see as some of the advantages to having manufacturing in the US?


Our local manufacturing operations will allow Suntech to meet the growing demands of customers throughout the Americas, including our dealer network with more than 400 partners. One advantage is that all modules produced at the facility are compliant for procurement in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects. Also, in the long term, regional manufacturing will help to minimize our exposure to rising oil and transportation costs. We’re excited about the future of the U.S. solar industry, which could double in size this year to more than 2,000MW. As the U.S. solar industry leader, we’re targeting a 20% market share for 2011, and local manufacturing will certainly contribute to our success.
 
3.       Is the availability of raw materials sufficient for current production and future expansions?

Absolutely. Our solar panels are comprised mostly of common materials such as silicon, nature’s second most abundant element. An important part of developing any sustainable and scalable energy solution is using materials that are not only environmentally-friendly but also readily available. Although our solar panels are guaranteed for 25 years and will probably generate electricity for 30, 40, or even 50 years, the majority of material content in our solar panels can and will be recycled.
 
4.       Where do most of the raw materials come from now and in the future?

As a multinational company, we work with suppliers and industry partners around the world. Suntech’s largest suppliers of silicon wafers – which represents more than half of the costs of our solar panels – have been U.S.-based companies, and Suntech’s largest suppliers of processing equipment have been industry-leaders based in Europe. We have other major suppliers based in China, Norway, Korea, Japan, and the U.K., among other countries and regions. Similarly, those companies operate across sprawling global supply chains. The solar industry draws on the strengths of diverse professionals around the world, and these contributions are critical for driving down the price of solar electricity for consumers.
 
5.       What is the current capacity of the plant?

We currently have 30MW of annual module production capacity and target 50MW by mid-year.
 
6.       How does the cost of production compare with similar plants in China?

The production costs are slightly higher, though we do save on logistics and transportation. As we gain experience and scale-up our Arizona facility, we will work to narrow the gap and further bring down the costs of production.
 
7.       Are there new or advanced technologies being implemented to improve production techniques at the plant?

The 117,000 square foot facility features a highly-automated production process, with state-of-the-art manufacturing and product testing equipment. We are exploring a number of opportunities for lowering operating costs, such as reducing energy and material inputs and increasing throughput. Since 2001, we have steadily improved the conversion efficiency of our leading solar cells from 14% to now nearly 20%. In the years ahead, we are targeting further efficiency improvements that, coupled with processing cost reductions, will lower the lifetime costs of solar electricity for consumers. Our target is to reach retail grid parity in 50% of world markets, including many regions of the United States, by 2015.
 
8.       What is the timeline for expanding capacity at this facility and what is the planned ultimate capacity?

The facility could easily expand to 120MW over the next several years if the market continues to support that growth. However, the long-term possibilities are unlimited. Here’s one way to think about it: the capacity our Goodyear production facility is three times larger than Suntech’s first 10MW module manufacturing facility constructed in 2001. Over the last decade, Suntech’s global production capacity has grown by nearly 100% each year to now around 1,800MW. If we continue that growth rate then the sky is the limit. Solar power could account for more than 50% of global electricity production by the end of the century, from less than 1% today. Naturally, we will need a lot more global production capacity to make that dream a reality.
 
9.       How many jobs did the opening of this plant create in the US and what do you see for future employment?

We currently employ 65 professionals in Goodyear and plan to roughly double those numbers in 2011. Our local production capacity will be measured to support the growth of our downstream partners throughout the Americas. This is particularly important from a jobs standpoint, as more than half of all solar industry jobs are created after solar panel production. In other words, the countries and regions that show leadership in the utilization of solar technology will benefit environmentally and economically, and create the most green jobs.

 
 

10.  
Does the plant now or in the future perform research into new solar technologies?


Our global teams of 380 R&D professionals are working around the world to drive down the lifetime cost of solar electricity generation. In 2009, despite the financial crisis, Suntech nearly doubled its global R&D investments to US$29 million, with similar growth again in 2010. Suntech has worked with universities, organizations and companies around the world to promote solar innovation, including nearby Arizona State University and many others in the U.S. We are investing in solar research in a variety of directions throughout the industry value chain, from more efficient silicon wafering to smart module components. Also, much of the high-value innovation happens right on the manufacturing floor, with employees finding creative ways to improve production processes. Suntech offers quarterly and annual incentives to encourage factory employees to come up with new ways to enhance our production processes.



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