NY v EMEA for Solar Frontier plant

New York state is competing with a location in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to host Solar Frontier's first module plant outside its Japanese home market, an executive tells Recharge.

In April, the PV manufacturer revealed that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the State University of New York to study the possibility of establishing a joint research and manufacturing facility in the city of Buffalo.

The plant would be built to "satisfy demand" in the US and South America, Wolfgang Lange, managing director for Solar Frontier Europe, said in an interview at Intersolar this week.

But at the same time the company is investigating setting up shop in the EMEA, although it hasn't yet decided where, and "cannot fire up factories all in parallel".

"The exact location is not decided. But you need to have the right framework conditions," Lange said.

"That means: are there subsidy schemes available for setting up production? What are the labour and electricity cost? Is raw material available? Do we have sunshine in the marketplace? And [are there] financial capabilities in those markets?"

Lange pointed out that Saudi Arabia would be an attractive location, given the fact that state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco owns a 15% stake in Solar Frontier.

He also mentioned Turkey as an interesting production location.

"But I wouldn't exclude other markets. Even Germany - if there is a good support - will not be excluded," Lange said. Despite cuts to solar support, Germany remains a key market for the company due to its good framework conditions and an absence of retroactive tax measures.

Which overseas plant is built first will depend on how studies and financial frameworks evolve, Lange explained, adding that although there is no MoU for the EMEA yet, the company is carrying out studies there as well "with different interested parties".

The size of any new factory will depend on how the PV market in the region develops. A new facility will be modeled on the 150MW Tōhoku plant Solar Frontier is building in central Japan that is slated to start output by March 2015.

It is designed as a modular blueprint for future factories that could be the same size or a multiple thereof, for example 300MW or 450MW, Lange said.

It will expand Solar Frontier's current production capacity of 960MW to establish the company as a PV maker in the 1GW-plus category.