Solar Frontier considers New York State factory

Solar Frontier, the solar arm of Japanese oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu, is studying the feasibility of constructing a solar manufacturing facility in Buffalo, upstate New York.

Attracted by low solar costs that make PV in the U.S. an attractive, near subsidy-free energy option for many, Solar Frontier’s new president Atsuhiko Hirano told the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. market is a sustainable proposition, and one which the company hopes to explore further in the future.

"It is a sustainable market," said Hirano. "One of the good things about the U.S. is solar is adopted with relatively little help from the government. The risk of policy change affecting solar demand is small."

The U.S: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has published data that reveals solar power costs in the country are just $0.11 per kilowatt hour. As recently as 2010, solar costs were almost double that amount. The U.S. average power price today is $0.12/kWh, and costs for solar power are only likely to continue to fall as more capacity is added.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has revealed that solar power was the second-largest type of power capacity added in the U.S. last year, while for six states 100% of all newly added power capacity was solar energy, including in Arizona and Nevada.

In these sunlight-rich state, utility scale solar power costs less than the average power price, noted Hirano, who also revealed that Solar Frontier is currently conducting a feasibility study with State University New York for collaborating on developing and manufacturing solar cells. The company specializes in CIS thin-film solar panels, using glass rather than a traditional silicon base – a technology that is thought to have a bright future in solar PV, particularly the residential market.

"Solar Frontier continues to look at possible locations for production bases worldwide as part of our plans to drive the company forward and become a global leader in solar energy," said Yuichi Kuroda, executive officer, vice president, Global Business Development, Corporate Planning at Solar Frontier.

"Buffalo is one possible location for such a facility in North America, but we are still in the feasibility stages. It is important to remember that we are focused on completing the construction of the upcoming 150 MW Tohoku Plant, which will act as a model for future overseas manufacturing facilities. This new production facility will enable production of CIS at higher conversion efficiencies and best-in-class cost levels. This is what we hope to bring to more customers worldwide as we expand globally over the next few years."

Last month, Hirano told pv magazine that the east coast of the U.S. – where the company’s new fab will be located – is undergoing a transition from utility scale to residential scale solar, and Solar Frontier sees this as a good opportunity to maximize the use and reach of its technology to a solar-hungry market.