SunEdison mulls 3GW Saudi factory

SunEdison, the US-based PV group, is exploring the possibility of establishing a 3GW vertically integrated PV factory in Saudi Arabia with state-backed local players. 

SunEdison says it will jointly fund a feasibility study regarding the factory with the Saudi Arabian Investment Company (Sanabil Investments) and the country’s Public Investment Fund, with an eye towards beginning production by 2017.

The polysilicon-through-module factory, to be sited at a planned industrial complex in northern Saudi Arabia, is expected to cost $6.4bn. There are few such vertically integrated PV factories in the world, and none on such an ambitious scale. 

SunEdison, which manufactures solar wafers in addition to its huge downstream projects PV business, would lend its proprietary polysilicon and ingot technology to the factory, while gaining a keen edge within the hotly anticipated Saudi solar market.

“We will bring our downstream solar PV development expertise to the region, and will partner with the Kingdom to build a large and dynamic solar energy industry,” says SunEdison chief executive Ahmad Chatila.

The full ownership structure of the factory, however, remains unclear. SunEdison says the deal would allow it continue improving its balance sheet through taking an “equity-light approach”.

Saudi Arabia, which has little renewables capacity in place at present, is targeting 16GW of PV by 2032 – and some observers believe it could end up with far more.

Saudi Arabia is expected to be the largest solar market in the Middle East and Africa by 2017, overtaking South Africa and Israel, according to some analysts. 

Underscoring the government’s support for the proposal, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals and the Saudi Electrical Company have committed to providing the necessary natural gas and power to the project, respectively.

A “significant percentage” of the polysilicon and ingots to come out of the factory would be poured back into cells and modules to be made at the same facility, while the remainder would be sold on the global market “with a substantial cost advantage”, SunEdison claims.

A number of global PV powerhouses, on both the manufacturing and development side, have expressed deep interest in the Saudi market.

Japan’s Solar Frontier, which is partially owned by Saudi Aramco, is often thought to be contemplating a production facility for its thin-film modules in the country at some point.