$1B Enel Solar PV Manufacturing Factory Coming to Oklahoma
Enel North America selected Oklahoma for a 3-gigawatt solar cell and panel manufacturing plant—one of only a handful of high-volume projects in the U.S. solar supply chain.
3Sun USA, an affiliate of Massachusetts-based renewable energy operator Enel North America, recently announced it selected Inola, Oklahoma, as its destination for a two million-square-foot manufacturing facility for bifacial photovoltaic (PV) modules and cells.
3Sun solar panels in production. Image used courtesy of Enel North America
The plant’s production capacity will start at 3 gigawatts (GW) annually, with construction scheduled for this fall. Enel expects the first solar panels to be ready for the market by late-2024, and a potential second phase would expand the factory’s output to 6 GW per year.
This is one of just a few large-scale, high-volume solar manufacturing facilities in the U.S., with market demand currently outpacing domestic supply. However, new federal policies offering solar investment and production incentives are expected to reverse this trend in the coming years.
Bifacial Heterojunction Technology Solar Modules
Under Enel’s umbrella, Italy-based 3Sun is growing its market share for high-efficiency solar cells. Last year, the company unveiled its bifacial heterojunction technology (HJT) solar module, slated to launch production in September 2023.
3Sun claims the double-sided module can secure higher energy production than average, adding 15-20% more electricity than traditional panels with one side. It also boasts of a certified cell efficiency of 24.6%, which broke a record in 2020 for the then-highest benchmark. The company touts the cells’ low degradation and high density, serving a range of applications limited by space constraints, such as rooftop or land-based utility-scale installations.
3Sun plans to launch the next generation of its tandem solar cells, which use two stacked cells to pull more light from the sun than their single-cell counterparts. Its tandem cells recently broke a record with a certified efficiency of 26.5%, surpassing the 25.8% record set in 2022 by a similar cell.
Video used courtesy of Enel North America
With an initial investment topping $1 billion, the project adds to the $3 billion Enel has poured into its Oklahoma operations for over a decade, establishing 13 wind farms and a regional office in the state capital. The upcoming facility is expected to create 1,000 permanent jobs and millions of dollars in long-term tax revenue. Enel’s website shows several job openings in Inola as of May 25.
U.S. Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling said that the Oklahoma solar factory represents the largest economic development project the state has ever seen, showing it can support mega-projects for high-demand technologies like solar systems. The facility will be located at the Tulsa Port of Inola Industrial Park. A few years ago, the Public Service Company of Oklahoma transferred 2,200 acres of industrial land to the park to develop infrastructure for new economic development projects.
3Sun’s bifacial HJT solar photovoltaic panel. Image used courtesy of Enel
Enel is expanding its presence in the North American market with a portfolio of 9.6 GW of utility-scale renewable capacity, 606 megawatts (MW) of utility-scale energy storage, 76 MW of distributed energy storage, and another 4.7 GW of demand response capacity. The Oklahoma factory marks 3Sun’s second solar PV manufacturing facility globally, behind its gigafactory in Italy, totaling 3 GW of production capacity.
US High-Volume Solar Supply Chain Ramps Up
The factory is significant because it’s one of the first to produce solar cells at high volumes in the U.S. While the country has plenty of solar panel assembly facilities, there’s virtually no domestic production capacity for key components such as silicon ingots, wafers, and cells.
That landscape is changing, though, with four other projects under construction nationwide—all announced in late-2022 or 2023. Qcells is building a 3.3 GW cell/ingot/wafer production facility in Georgia; SEM Wafertech and Solar4America announced plans in April to invest $65.9 million in a 1.5 GW wafer facility in South Carolina; Silfab Solar also selected South Carolina for a 1 GW cell manufacturing plant earlier this year; and CubicPV announced plans in December 2022 to establish a 10 GW conventional mono wafer production facility, though a site hasn’t been selected yet.
Generous subsidies and tax credits from last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will likely spur more investments in the coming months. Citing new policy certainty from the IRA, Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association project that the U.S. installed solar fleet will grow fivefold over the next ten years, from 141 GW in 2022 to over 700 GW by 2033.