Solar Expanding Its Footprint in North America

August 24, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

A Canadian diamond mine and manufacturing expansions in New Mexico and Louisiana are among the projects on the docket. 

Two solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers recently unveiled $2.1 billion in investments to expand their footprints in New Mexico and Louisiana, facing growing demand for solar panels produced domestically. Meanwhile, a diamond mine in Canada announced a substantial expansion to add over 6,000 solar panels powering the operation. 


Maxeon’s upcoming manufacturing facility in New Mexico

A rendering of Maxeon’s upcoming manufacturing facility in New Mexico. Image used courtesy of Maxeon Solar Technologies


Maxeon Invests $1B for 3 GW Solar Manufacturing Facility

Singapore-based Maxeon Solar Technologies announced it selected a 160-acre location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for its first American manufacturing expansion. The 3-gigawatt (GW) facility will produce its latest TOPCon PV-silicon cells and shingled-cell modules to meet the demand for domestically produced solar components. Construction is expected to start in early 2024, with the factory opening in 2025. 

Maxeon touts the project as the first large-scale solar cell/panel manufacturing facility in New Mexico. The site will include solar cell fabrication, panel assembly, warehouse space, and administrative offices, adding 1,800 jobs. The plant will serve utility-scale customers and distributed generation rooftop applications. The investment tops $1 billion, pending financial close under the Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Financing Program. 

The company spun out of California-based SunPower, one of the largest solar players in the U.S., in 2020. Facing high demand for its products, Maxeon is assessing plans to increase the scale of its manufacturing operation to 4.5 GW of capacity. It will finalize its decision later in 2023. 

Earlier this year, Maxeon expanded its plant in Baja California’s Mexicali to 1.8 GW – complementing its second site in California with a combined production capacity of 2.5 GW per year. 


$1.1B for a 3.5-GW Solar Manufacturing Plant in Louisiana

Arizona-based solar module manufacturer First Solar, one of the country’s largest solar companies, announced it would invest up to $1.1 billion to build a 3.5-GW vertically integrated plant in Louisiana at the Acadiana Regional Airport south of Lafayette. 

The facility is expected to be completed in the first half of 2026, upping First Solar’s nameplate capacity to 14 GW in the U.S. and 25 GW globally. The operation will produce its Series 7 modules, expected to claim over two-thirds of its annual domestic capacity once the factory is built. 

First Solar is on a roll with manufacturing expansions lately, delivering on a $4.1 billion plan to grow its global capacity from 6 GW in 2020 to 13 GW today. Another 12 GW is due to come online in India and the U.S. by 2026. The company commissioned its third Ohio factory this year and expanded its existing facility there. That Ohio expansion and another new plant in Alabama will be completed in 2024. The company is also pouring $370 million into an Ohio research and development center. 

As EE Power covered earlier this summer, the company landed a major 5 GW order for solar modules from Israel-based Energix Renewable Energies, serving projects in Israel, the U.S., and Poland. It also bought Swedish startup Evolar AB to boost its development of tandem solar cells with thin-film perovskite materials. 


Solar Expansion at a Canadian Diamond Mine

Rio Tinto, a mining giant co-headquartered in England and Australia, announced it would add a large-scale solar power plant at its Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The mine, scheduled to end commercial production in early 2026, will add over 6,600 solar panels, covering up to 25% of its electricity closure work commences through 2029. 

The mine is the country’s largest diamond producer, churning out 3.5 to 4.5 million carats of rough diamonds annually. It already has a wind-diesel hybrid power facility with 55.4 megawatts (MW) of capacity. The solar expansion will generate around 4,200 megawatt-hours annually. Construction will start later this year, coming online in the first half of 2024. 


Rio Tinto’s Diavik Diamond Mine

Rio Tinto’s Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada is 124 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Image used courtesy of Rio Tinto


Rio Tinto will install bi-facial panels that draw energy from direct sunlight and reflections from the snow covering the site, located 124 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The expansion will slash the site’s diesel consumption by 1 million liters per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 2,900 tonnes, equivalent to around 630 cars. The company targets a 50% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. 

Rio Tinto calls the project the largest solar plant in Canada’s northern territories. The project received CAD 3.3 million ($2.4 million) in grant funding from the Government of the Northwest Territories and another CAD 600,000 ($443,319) through the Canadian government’s Clean Electricity Investment Tax Credit.