Enel announces potential partner for 3 GW solar module factory in Italy

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Enel Green Power, the renewables unit of Italian energy group Enel, is currently in talks with an unspecified investor to potentially acquire a stake of up to 50% in a 3 GW heterojunction solar module factory now under construction on the Italian island of Sicily.

Enel CEO Francesco Starace made the statement on the sidelines of an event to promote the factory in Catania. He did not reveal any additional details about the deal.

In December, Italian media outlet Milano Finanza reported that Enel had asked investment firm Rothschild to seek potential investors for the sale of a 50% stake in 3Sun, which owns the factory. The article also cited London-based renewable energy merchant bank NextEnergy Capital as one of the potential investors.

Italian Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin and Ditte Juul Jørgensen, the director general for energy in the European Commission, were among the officials who attended an event at the factory this week.

“With 3Sun, we are practically demonstrating that in Italy, and therefore also in Europe, thanks to an innovative technology, we can now produce state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels that are competitive in international markets,” Starace said.

The total investment in the new module factory will reach €600 million ($644.4 million), with the European Union and the Italian government contributing up to €188 million to the TANGO (iTaliAN pv Giga factOry) project. Enel Green Power will initially target the European market, where it is required to sell up to 60% of its products, due to conditions related to the aforementioned EU funding.

Enel Green Power started building the factory in May, with completion scheduled by this summer. An operational capacity of 400 MW will be available for production from September. When it reaches full capacity utilization of 3 GW in 2024, the factory will host five 600 MW module assembly lines.

Currently, there are more 200 people working at 3Sun. This number will expand to about 900 people in total.

The Gigafactory will not only increase direct employment, but it will also generate a total of 1,000 indirect jobs, including current ones, by 2024, according to the company.

The solar cell production unit will be located at the same industrial site, in an adjacent building hosting the 200 MW multi-junction, thin-film silicon PV module lines that Enel Green Power replaced with a 200 MW heterojunction pilot production line in 2017. The cell production capacity will increase to 400 MW in September 2023 and 3,000 MW by July 2024.

The company is betting on n-type heterojunction (HJT) cell with an efficiency of 25.5%. It said this could result in module efficiencies above 24%. From 2026, Enel plans to offer even more efficient solar modules based on tandem silicon-perovskite cells. The final products will reportedly reach efficiencies of around 30%.

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