The hopes of a tighter domestic supply chain for renewable and battery storage energy technologies grows higher with each new announcement of a North American manufacturing plant.
This week, Enel North American revealed it had selected a small town in eastern Oklahoma as the site for its new solar photovoltaic cell and panel manufacturing facility. The NA offshoot of Italian energy giant Enel plans to locate the facility in Inola, near Tulsa, and it will be operated by affiliate 3Sun USA.
With an expected annual production capacity of 3 GW, the over 2 million square foot factory represents an initial investment of over $1 billion, it says. Construction is scheduled to commence in the fall of 2023, pending final approvals, permits, and economic incentive agreements.
The Enel decision to locate to the U.S. follows many others in the wake of incentives and tax credits buoyed through the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act setting aside several hundred billion dollars for decarbonization energy technologies. Companies such as Microvast, LG Energy Solution, Silicon Ranch, Cummins, EnerVenue, First Solar, ABB and Kore Power are among many others to bring some of the clean energy supply chain into the U.S.
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The Enel facility in Oklahoma is projected to generate approximately 1,000 direct permanent jobs by 2025. The first panels are expected to be available in the market by the end of 2024. The project also has the potential for a second phase, which would expand the factory’s production capacity to 6 GW annually, leading to the creation of an additional 900 direct jobs.
“Our selection of Oklahoma is a testament to the strength of the Tulsa Port of Inola site, the state’s commitment to workforce development, and an attractive investment climate,” said Giovanni Bertolino, Head of 3Sun USA. “With this announcement, we are taking a major step forward in developing a state-of-the-art PV factory, bringing hundreds of jobs and millions in long-term tax revenue, while moving Oklahoma to the forefront of renewables manufacturing.”
The manufacturing facility will employ a high-performance bifacial heterojunction technology (HJT), making it one of the first factories to utilize this advanced technology, Enel North America says.
3Sun, a subsidiary of Enel based in Catania, Italy, unveiled its new HJT solar module in September 2022, with production planned to begin in September 2023. These double-sided HJT modules have the capability to generate higher energy production compared to conventional single-sided panels, with an increase of approximately 15-20 percent, the company says. They also offer significant efficiency improvements, boasting a certified cell efficiency of 24.6 percent.
Moreover, the company says the technology’s reduced degradation ensures longer module lifespans, while the high cell density makes them suitable for various applications, including utility-scale installations with limited land availability and rooftop installations. In the near future, 3Sun plans to introduce its next-generation tandem cell technology, which recently achieved a certified efficiency of 26.5 percent. This tandem technology employs two stacked cells to capture more light, surpassing the capabilities of single-cell structures.
Enel has been operating in Oklahoma for more than ten years, during which it has invested $3 billion to expand its presence in the state. Currently, Enel operates 13 wind farms in Oklahoma and maintains a regional office in Oklahoma City to support its growing workforce.