Enel plans to start solar cell production, announces developments for 34 MW in Zambia and 238 MW in Mexico

Enel's 3Sun module factory is located in Catania, Sicily, southern Italy.

Italian power provider Enel, which is active in the solar and renewable energy sectors through its unit Enel Green Power (EGP), is coordinating a research project aimed at setting up solar cell production at the company’s manufacturing facility in Catania on the Italian island of Sicily.

The project, named Automated photovoltaic cell and Module industrial Production to regain and secure European Renewable Energy market (AMPERE), is being funded by the EU with €14 million ($14.9 million). The project’s partners are the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), the local research institute for microelectronics and microsystems CNR-IMM, and Italy-based Rise Technology, a start-up company in the interconnection and packaging for the microelectronics industry. Further international partners are Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE, French Solar Energy Research Center (CEA-INES) and Meyer Burger Research AG among others.

The pilot production, ENEA said in a press release, will manufacture heterojunction solar cells based on crystalline and amorphous silicon. Final goal of the project is a PV module production that can ensure an efficiency of around 23% with production costs above €0.42 per W and an annual degradation rate of less than 0.5%. The consortium aims at bringing the production capacity of Enel’s factory in Catania up to 1 GW over the next five years.

ENEA’s Mario Tucci told pv magazine that: “Technical, cconomic and environmental sustainability of the 100 MWp production line will be demonstrated, in particular competitive generation costs, using high efficiency and/or intrinsic bi-faciality of the selected technologies. The latter in particular will ensure higher annual energy production, and hence significantly lower LCOE than conventional technologies. These expected outcomes will be assessed and evaluated as a solid milestone for the viability of a 250 MWp production scale factory in 2020, paving the way to the first GWp factory in 2022.”

Enel announced it will convert its 3Sun factory to the production of bi-facial, heterojunction modules in early March. At the time, the company said it expects to launch its new modules in 2018, and to reach a capacity of 240 MW in 2019. EGP also said it will invest €80 million ($84.8 million) in converting its production at the facility and another €20 million ($21.2 million) for its R&D center Innovation Lab, which is also located in the area.

In a separate development, Enel Green Power announced it has signed a long-term PPA for a large-scale solar project in Zambia with local power utility ZESCO. The 34 MW Ngonye1 PV solar project was selected in June in the first round tender of the Scaling Solar programme, which was launched by state-owned investment holding company Industrial Development Corporation Limited (IDC).

Two PV projects were handed out during the first auction under the “Scaling Solar” program. Electricity from Enel’s plant will be sold under a 25-year PPA for $0.0784/KWh, while the electricity from a First Solar and Neoen joint project will be sold for just %0.0602/KWh,– a record low price in Africa for solar energy.

Enel said the project’s required investment will be $40 million and that the plant will be owned 80% by Enel Green Power and 20% by IDC.

TerniEnergia announced that it secured the EPC contract for the project right after Enel’s announcement in June. The contract is worth approximately $8 million, and will involve all EPC activities, excluding the supply of modules, inverters and trackers.

The facility will be built across 500 hectares in Zambia‘s capital city, Lusaka.

Furthermore, Enel announced it has begun work on the 238 MW Don José solar power plant in Mexico. The project is located in the state of Guanajuato, in Northern Mexico, and is expected to come online in 2018. Required investments for the project amount to approximately $220 million.

“Today’s announcement marks an important milestone for our presence in Mexico, as Don José is the final project to begin construction from the 1 GW of capacity awarded to Enel in the country’s first long-term public tender following its energy reforms,” said Paolo Romanacci, Enel’s Head of Renewable Energies for Central America.

In the past week, Enel also started construction on the 754 MW Villanueva solar project, which is located in the state of Coahuila and is scheduled for completion in the second half of 2018. Both projects are being developed by Enel Green Power México (EGPM), a subsidiary of Enel Green Power.

In 2016, the Mexican government allocated about 3.6 GW of solar capacity through two energy auctions.