Convalt Energy to open 700-MW solar panel assembly facility in New York in 2022

There have been some announcements in recent years of production outfits for crystalline silicon solar panels coming to the United States, but nothing new has been opened so far since Q CELLS (Georgia), LG (Alabama) and JinkoSolar (Florida) released their panel. unveiled assembly facilities in 2019. In fact, this year, one of the longest-running solar panel manufacturing facilities in the United States was closed when SunPower shut down production at the former SolarWorld plant in Oregon after more than a decade of on-site manufacturing and 40+ years of engineering know-how.

Archive photo of SolarWorld’s Oregon facility

But those veteran SolarWorld production lines are living to fight another day now that ACO Investment Group (operating through its subsidiary Convalt Energy) has bought the equipment and is moving it all to a new facility in upstate New York. The plan is to have 700 MW of American assembled solar panels come from the new-build factory from July 2022.

We spoke to Hari Achuthan, President and CEO of Convalt Energy, to learn more about the company’s plans for solar energy production in the US.

Who is Convalt Energy?

Convalt Energy initially started as a solar developer in 2011 and worked on projects in Southeast Asia and Africa, but Achuthan said its focus is now on developing projects and starting panel production in the United States.

“We’ve got our teeth into development and we’re now developing projects in the US,” he said. “This opportunity arose [to buy SunPower equipment], and we’ve always had a vision of wanting to be a manufacturer in the US to support US jobs and support the supply chain returning to the US. This opportunity presented itself and our shareholders agreed we had to do it.”

The Convalt website shows that a few members of the company’s engineering team have experience in module manufacturing, but Convalt will primarily use its experience purchasing modules for projects in multiple countries to be competitive in the production of modules. modules.

“Over the past nine years we’ve been developing projects and we needed to understand the supply chain, we had to understand the pricing of panels,” Achuthan said. “We were exposed to prices from several sources, including SunPower and First Solar and panels from Chinese manufacturers. We started to dissect and understand how the pricing worked.”

Why New York?

Archive photo of SolarWorld’s 2016 5-busbar stringer

The schedule of events is to kick off the new facility in New York in October 2021, with module production commencing in July 2022. Convalt Energy expects an annual module capacity of 700 MW out of the gate.

Convalt chose Watertown, New York, near Lake Ontario, as its manufacturing base because the area has an eager manufacturing business. Watertown has a long history of industrial success, once a major hub for pulp and paper mills and access to clean energy from hydropower.

The Watertown facility is a go no matter what, Achuthan said. Convalt isn’t waiting for any manufacturing tax credits (as recently introduced in the Senate), but subsidies and credits would affect the company’s growth trajectory.

“We will continue with this regardless of any production credit. When [the credit] comes, it will make the project even more attractive. It will be more comfortable for the lenders because we need to expand and get additional working lines to go from 700 MW to 2 GW or to get cell lines or wafer lines,” Achuthan said.

What will be made in the new factory?

Archive photo of SolarWorld’s Oregon facility

Convalt Energy acquired SunPower’s production lines in April 2021. The equipment, which most recently produced SunPower’s shingled P-series modules, has likely been out of use since March 2021, when SunPower shut down operations at the plant. Since the equipment is not yet standing still for long, Achuthan expects that the start-up will be quick and that no major technological upgrades will be required.

“I would say 95% will stay the same. There will be some updates, but that’s okay,” he said.

Achuthan said Convalt is using its proprietary technology to manufacture 72-cell panels for roof and utility projects. He expects Convalt to move to next-generation technology fairly quickly within the next two years.

Convalt plans to use some of its produced modules for its own developed projects, but third-party sales are likely to increase as demand increases. Things will smooth out as plans are made. Right now, Achuthan and Convalt are focused on shipping the equipment lines to New York and setting up manufacturing jobs in the US.

“Our commitment is to support US jobs and get the supply chain here back to the US so we have control,” Achuthan said.

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