Australian Solar Manufacturing Support – Lessons From The USA

The cold reality of ominous rumblings on global markets, job losses in the local steel industry and a manufacturing sector slowly disappearing into the rear view of our two-speed economy are settling in.

Australian policy makers – faced with choices on how to spend billions in carbon tax cash – should perhaps look overseas, where successful renewable energy policies are helping business invigorate stagnant manufacturing industries.

Back in February we brought you the news that, as part of a $26 billion green energy stimulus plan, US thin-film solar panel manufacturer, SoloPower, would receive a $197 million federal loan guarantee to set up a solar panel factory in Oregon.

SoloPower says it has received final approval for the loan guarantee and will immediately begin construction on three facilities in Portland, Oregon, that are expected to produce 400 megawatts (MW) of state-of-the art thin-film copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) photovoltaic panels per year. SoloPower’s thin-film solar panel can simply be rolled out across a roof-top, without need for racking, making it much easier to install.

The company say says that by securing the federal loan, its high-volume manufacturing plants will create 700 new jobs.

Oregon Senator, Ron Wyden, praised the DOE and loan guarantee scheme as smart policy.

“This loan guarantee from the DOE is the kind of job creating investment this country needs. Companies that push the boundaries of known technology will reinvigorate America’s economy and provide much-needed family wage jobs for Oregonians now, and in the future.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, local solar manufacturing is now practically non-existent after an announcement last week from Silex Solar that while it would continue to assemble solar panels at its Sydney facilities, it would no longer manufacture solar cells for its panels locally.

Making solar panel related equipment locally is a tough call these days, with Chinese products flooding the market; fueled by consumer demand for cheaper products. However, while some Australian companies have diversified into new areas of solar technology and become more innovative in the hope to compete with the rest of the world; too often the technology and jobs go overseas as local support is deemed insufficient.

A recent example is Enviromission’s solar tower – a breakthrough in solar power related technology that should have seen the first plant located here, but instead will be constructed in Arizona due to more favourable policies and support.