HILLSBORO, Ore. SolarWorld AG, one of the oldest makers of photovoltaic cells in the U.S., said it is continuing to expand its U.S. manufacturing operations despite the global economic recession.
The German company's fourth quarter results are not in yet, but the company claims it grew by over 51 percent in the first nine months of 2008 while continuing to expand its U.S. manufacturing capacity. SolarWorld recently opened a new facility in Hillsboro, Ore., with nearly a 500,000 square feet of semiconductor-grade manufacturing areas, making SolarWorld the biggest U.S. manufacture of photovoltaic cells.
"We think we can [manufacture] about a half a gigawatt out of this [new] facility" a year, said Robert Beisner, vice president of SolarWorld Industries America. "It depends on the technology [and] exactly what kind of efficiencies we are getting from the cells."
New investment in clean energy sources exceeded $150 billion for the first time in 2008, according to London-based New Energy Finance Ltd., but grew less than 5 percent in the second half of 2008.
SolarWorld is pinning its hopes on plans by the Obama administration to support green energy development. Beisner said he expects expanded tax credits and other incentives aimed at not only boosting the ailing economy but also at creating manufacturing jobs for Americans. By 2011 when manufacturing capacity grows to 500 megawatts per year, the new Hillsboro facility will employ 1,000 workers drawn from the local pool of semiconductor workers laid off by chip makers like Intel Corp.
Unlike most photovoltaic cell makers, SolarWorld manufactures all parts of its solar cell modules, ranging from silicon ingots, wafers, solar cells and modules. SolarWorld manufactures polysilicon solar cells for the German market that are cheaper to make but less efficient than monocrystalline solar cells. In the U.S., however, SolarWorld makes only monocrystalline solar cells.
SolarWorld said it selected Oregon for its U.S. manufacturing base because of state tax credits and the availability of a local seminconductor manufacturing plant for sale at 10 cents on the dollar. Komatsu Semiconductor built the 480,000-square-foot facility in Hillsboro for $400 million, but never manufactured chips there. In 2007, the empty facility was sold to SolarWorld for just $40 million.
While the new facility is used to manufacture components, SolarWorld's Camarillo, Calif., plant handles assembly. Eventually, the Oregon plant also is expected to assemble solar modules.