Suniva will start manufacturing its monocrystalline silicon solar cells in Georgia later this year (photo cropped, courtesy of Suniva)

Made-In-The-USA Monocrystalline Solar Cells: Not A Dream Anymore

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When the US solar firm Suniva ceased operating in 2017, that looked like the end of the road for the oldest domestic supplier of monocrystalline solar cells in the nation. In fact, that looked like the end of the road for monocrystalline manufacturing in the US, period. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. If all goes according to plan, the US solar industry will finally get its hands on made-in-the-USA monocrystalline solar cells.

Where Are All The Made-In-The-USA Solar Cells?

The US solar industry has been growing at a record-setting pace at the installation end, but the manufacturing side has been slow to catch up. Today’s go-to solar technology consists of solar cells made from silicon crystals. Polycrystalline cells made of silicon crystals melted together are less expensive but not as efficient as monocyrstalline cells made of single crystals, and none of those are currently made in the US.

Solar developers and installers in the US have been relying on imported solar cells and panels to fuel the industry’s growth, raising concerns that an influx of imports will swamp the domestic industry all over again.

“An unprecedented wave of imported solar panels, mostly from Southeast Asia, reached US shores in 2023 amid rising concerns over the impact on America’s solar manufacturing renaissance,” S&P Global reported earlier this year.

Citing data from the US Census Bureau, S&P noted that “US panel imports skyrocketed last year to a record 54 GW, surging 82% from 2022 and growing almost tenfold over the past five years.”

As for the source of the panels, S&P recounts that the Biden administration provided a temporary moratorium on anti-dumping and anti-circumvention tariffs back in 2022, covering monocrystalline solar cells and modules. The exemption was only supposed to apply to Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, but the US Department of Commerce Department found that some Chinese solar firms were taking advantage of the loophole as well.

Here They Are!

If all this is starting to ring some bells in connection with Suniva, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. “Suniva, the Chinese-owned, US-based solar manufacturer which instigated the Section 201 trade case that led to the imposition of 30% tariffs on all imported solar cells and modules, has this week been released from bankruptcy proceedings thanks to the intervention of SQN Capital Management,” CleanTechnica noted back in June of 2018 (see additional reporting on Suniva’s ownership here, and our complete Suniva archive here; the current owner is a New York firm).

Suniva soon dropped off our radar entirely, but that was then. The Biden moratorium is due to expire in June, and Suniva is back on the block.

Last October Reuters reported on Suniva’s plans for restarting its solar cell manufacturing operation in Norcross, Georgia, at an initial capacity of 1 gigawatt per year. Reuters noted that the company’s president, Matt Card, credits incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act for the revival.

“Solar cells can succeed in this market. We’re proving that and we’re coming back in a major way very, very quickly,” Card told Reuters.

Reuters also noted that the New York firm Lion Point Capital (not to be confused with Lionpoint Group) is the current owner of Suniva, having stepped in when the company came out of bankruptcy in 2019. Lion Point Capital describes itself as a “global investment firm that seeks to invest in equity and debt securities of undervalued public and private companies.”

Full Steam Ahead For US Solar Cell Factory

Also name-checked by Reuters is another New York Firm, Orion Infrastructure Capital, which committed funding for Suniva to expand the Georgia facility. The same firm is also funding a new solar cell and solar panel factory in Minnesota, under the umbrella of the Canadian solar manufacturing firm Heliene.

Connecting the dots, on March 27 Suniva issued a press release explaining that it has forged a three-year strategic sourcing contract with Heliene, under which Heliene’s new factory in Minnesota will deploy solar cells from Suniva’s US facility.

Heliene’s modules will be the first crystalline solar modules with a U.S.-made solar cell,” Suniva emphasized, making them eligible for a 10% tax credit carved out for renewable energy technologies under the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Currently, all U.S.-made solar crystalline modules use only imported cells,” Suniva added. “This partnership will directly address that gap in the U.S. solar supply chain and help strengthen manufacturing capacity to meet increased demand for domestic products.”

Suniva CEO Cristiano Amoruso was particularly interested in crediting the role of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“This contract is a testament to the effectiveness of the Inflation Reduction Act and Treasury’s May 2023 domestic content guidance. We are proud to fulfill our long-standing promise to bring back cell manufacturing to the United States at our Norcross facility,” Amoruso stated in the March 27 press release.

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What’s Up With Georgia?

For the record, the Inflation Reduction Act is President Biden’s signature climate action law. It passed Congress in 2022 with exactly zero votes from Republican lawmakers. Fortunately for job seekers in Georgia, Democrats in the House and Senate carried the day.

True to form, some Georgia public officials have continued to excoriate the Inflation Reduction Act, even as their own economic development agencies spend public dollars to lure new clean tech investors to the state.

The Norcross solar cell factory is credited with creating 250 new jobs in Georgia just for starters, and that’s not the only example of an IRA-fueled solar revival in the state. Last October the news organization Global Atlanta, for example, took note when the Korean solar panel manufacturer Qcells completed its third expansion in Georgia.

“Walking a political tightrope, Qcells credited the solar incentives that ended up getting included in the IRA as setting the proper regulatory framework for the company to thrive, while praising the “incredible support” from the Georgia Department of Economic Development,” noted Global Atlanta reporter Trevor Williams.

Other clean tech ventures are fueling job growth in the state, too. Partly on account of its business-friendly labor laws, Georgia is also seeing a boom in EV battery manufacturing with an assist from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

To the extent that clean tech manufacturers are seeking locations with access to renewable energy, though, Georgia has some catching up to do.

“Georgia, a capital for electric vehicle production, needs to increase its supply of electricity produced without burning fossil fuels in order to meet industries’ demand for clean energy, Gov. Brian Kemp told world business leaders Thursday,” the Associated Press reported in January.

You don’t say! The Georgia solar industry has established a respectable track record on installed solar capacity, so perhaps the addition of new solar cell and panel facilities in the state will help stimulate additional growth.

On the other hand, Kemp — who is a Republican — could have been making the case for adding to the state’s nuclear energy profile, despite the long series of delays and cost overruns related to the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Image: Suniva will start manufacturing its monocrystalline silicon solar cells in Georgia later this year (photo cropped, courtesy of Suniva via US Department of Energy).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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