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8 March 2023

10 GW module factory planned in Romania, 5 GW cell in France

Several months ago we covered EU ambitions to reach 30 GW of fully-verticalized photovoltaic manufacturing, and concluded that while there was a lot of policy support and planning put towards that, someone would still have to stump up $10 billion dollars, if not more, to reach that target.

Last month Ursula von der Leyen announced the EU Green Deal Industrial Plan, which took action on permitting and funding for solar manufacturing capacity, but still didn’t write the $10 billion cheque.

What has happened, as of this month, is the announcement of two new European solar factories. AE Solar intends to build 10 GW module factory in Romania, while Carbon of France has selected the site of its planned 5 GW cell factory, 3.5 GW module factory in Fos-sur-mer, France. Another announcement since the Green Deal Industrial Plan was a 500 MW TOPCon module factory in Spain coming from Exiom and Iberdrola, which should be commissioned this year.

The Romanian government states that the first 2 GW tranche of AE Solar’s facility could be commissioned by the end of this year, and that it is looking into EU funding or state aid to subsidise the expected $1.1 billion investment cost of the full 10 GW facility. Last month the European Commission approved a $270 million state aid package for Romanian solar cell, solar module and battery manufacturing. The German company’s existing 1.7 GW of module production capacity is split between Turkey and China.

Carbon’s facility, which has entered public consultation, is expected to cost $1.6 billion, with financing yet to be announced. This facility would produce Tunnel Oxide Passivated Contact (TOPCon) and Interdigitated Back Contact (IBC) cells. The French startup identifies the latter as suitable for BIPV and Vehicle Integrated PV (VIPV) applications, but is also states that it intends to sell products adapted to just about every project type, from residential to commercial to agricultural to industrial, as well as shaded areas, ground-mounted projects, agrivoltaics, and floating solar installations. Carbon also states that it will use low-carbon polysilicon, a reminder that hydropower-driven Norway is a polysilicon producer.

The investment costs of these European factories are much higher than those in China – take as a random example JA Solar’s 10 GW module and cell factory in Dongtai, announced in December as having an $800 million investment cost. In this comparison Carbon is paying twice as much for less than half the production capacity, though at least it is for two slightly more advanced cell types.

Another European solar manufacturer which is forging ahead with a production expansion, and which will definitely happen, is Systovi – also French – which will double its output. But it’s going from 40 MW to 80 MW, with a $1.6 million investment, and products which are lightweight and high-quality, geared specifically to Europe’s rooftop market.

Larger European efforts may still be doomed to falter in the face of Chinese competition, judging by REC’s cancellation of a planned 4 GW heterojunction factory last year. All of these announcements put together are dwarfed by the almost 87 GW imported from China last year.

An exception is Enel’s 3Sun factory in Catania, Italy, which is still on track to become Europe’s largest module factory in 2024, up to 3 GW from its current 200 MW scale, with a $630 million investment. 3Sun’s technology type will be heterojunction, which it has been something of a trailblazer for, and the company claims it will be able to produce tandem modules from 2025, with 30% efficiency.