SunPower to assemble high-efficiency modules in South Africa

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US PV energy provider, SunPower, has said it will own and operate a new module assembly plant in South Africa to produce its E20/440 high-efficiency PV panels.

The new plant, which will have an initial operational capacity of 160MW, is to be established in Cape Town and is set to be operational in 2015.

It will also be the headquarters for SunPower's engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), and operations & management (O&M) operations, consolidating its South African business into one building. SunPower said that around 150 new jobs would be created.

However, the company did not mention its module assembly plant that was already located in Cape Town, which was previously owned by Tenesol, a division of Total that was merged with SunPower after Total acquired a majority stake in SunPower. 

Tenesol had established the assembly plant in Cape Town over 10 years ago and had expanded capacity in 2010 from 55MW to 85MW and had employed around 230 people. 

The facility had used solar cells acquired by major merchant providers from Taiwan and was also home to Tenesol’s BIPV module production. 

SunPower also noted that it had completed the construction of two ground-mounted solar projects totalling 33MW in 2014 as well being appointed as the preferred EPC and O&M contractor for an 86MW (DC) project in round three of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme by the MULILO-TOTAL consortium.

SunPower had previously told PV Tech that it had won two PV projects under the first phase of South African programme, which included the 11MW ‘Greefspan PV Power Plant’ and the 22MW ‘Herbert PV Power Plant,’ both located near Douglas in the Northern Cape Province. Tenesol SA was initially documented to be supplying modules for the Herbert project from its Cape Town assembly plant as part of the local content requirements that played a part in winning the initial bid. 

The vast majority of PV projects under the initial two phases of the REIPPP used Chinese-sourced modules. 

Marty Neese, SunPower COO said: “SunPower has a significant presence in the South African solar market, including two large power plants built this year and another one that will begin construction soon. By manufacturing our high efficiency solar panels at this new facility, we will not only help the local economy, but continue to deliver clean, renewable energy to this region. Our investment in this new plant is part of our commitment to the local South African PV market, and meets our objective to build a sustainable business through local investment and create jobs in the medium and long term.”

SunPower has been capacity constrained throughout 2014 and is expected to ramp its next generation solar cells at a new 300MW production plant in the Philippines also in 2015. 

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