Solar Frontier considers NY factory

Japan’s Solar Frontier is contemplating establishing a PV module plant in New York, in what would represent a huge win in the Empire State’s push to develop a clean-energy economy – and Solar Frontier’s first manufacturing facility outside its home country.

Solar Frontier, one of the world’s largest makers of thin-film PV modules, has long dangled the prospect of building factories overseas, with much speculation centering on the Middle East, given its partial ownership by Saudi Aramco.

But the company today revealed that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with a branch of the State University of New York (SUNY) to investigate the possibility of establishing a joint R&D and manufacturing facility in Buffalo, the state’s second most populous city.

Solar Frontier did not specify how large the factory could potentially be. However, it did refer to the 150MW plant it is currently building in Japan’s Tohoku region as “a model for future overseas manufacturing facilities”.

Solar Frontier, which recently chalked up its first full year of profitability, pulled the investment trigger on the Tohoku plant after being unable to meet demand out of its 900MW Kunitomi factory, thanks to Japan’s roaring PV market.

“Establishing overseas production bases is at the core of our mid-term growth plan,” explains Solar Frontier president Hiroto Tamai.

The memorandum of understanding was signed with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, part of the sprawling SUNY system, which already runs a “Solar Energy Development Center” in Halfmoon, New York, where it maintains a demonstration production line for next-generation CIGS solar cells.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clean-energy a central pillar in his economic development plant for the state.

Among other initiatives, Cuomo recently oversaw the opening of the New York Green Bank, which seeks to use public money to leverage up far larger amounts from the private sector for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency schemes.