The increase in panel production capacity will be implemented in two stages, says the company. Initially, it intends to install state-of-the-art automated assembly equipment at the facility, in order to increase capacity from 13 per annum to 20 MW by early next year. Depending on continuing demand, the second stage of equipment upgrades will occur in the middle of next year, it continues, to further increase annual panel production capacity to approximately 35 MW. The total capital expenditure for the two-stage upgrade will be in the order of AUD$2 million.
The company adds that in parallel with the panel assembly line expansion, it is also seeking to develop higher efficiency solar cell technology at its SOP plant, in collaboration with the University of New South Wales and Suntech Power under a research program, which was awarded AUD$5 million funding from the Australian Solar Institute back in May. The project aims to increase solar cell efficiency from around 17 percent currently to approximately 20 percent by 2012, explains Silex, which would potentially increase the plant panel production capacity from 35 MW per annum to approximately 40 MW.
This is good news for SilexSolar, commented Dr. Michael Goldsworthy, Silex CEO. With the Australian residential rooftop panel market growing strongly from 80 MW in 2009 to a forecast 130 MW in 2010, we have seen very strong demand for our Australian-made PV panels across the country. With margins in the global PV market tight, it is important that we increase our production capacity and improve solar cell efficiency in order to remain competitive.
The company goes on to outline its plans for ramping up cell production towards the maximum existing capacity of up to 50 MW per annum. Overseas sales of this excess cell capacity are anticipated to commence in the first half of next year. If this is the case, comments Silex, then the SOP plant will potentially generate revenues in the order of AUD$100 million per annum in the 2011/12 financial year.
We are also actively pursuing larger commercial scale projects in the range of 20 kW to 200 kW or more, Rod Seares, SilexSolar general manager added. This market is relatively untapped in Australia to date, but presents significant opportunities for us and our prospective commercial project partners going forward. With State and Federal Government renewable energy policies continuing to strengthen, the prospects for Solar Power in Australias energy mix looks increasingly positive.