In March this year operations commenced at Australia’s only solar manufacturing plant, now owned by SilexSolar, a wholly owned subsidiary of Silex Systems.
Equipment was being dismantled and auctioned off in June 2009 at the Homebush site when SilexSolar purchased the plant from BP Solar. SilexSolar then spent nine months getting it back into full working order.
Having successfully completed the certification process in February 2010, the first SilexSolar solar panels soon began rolling off the production line.
The plant is the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Southern Hemisphere, with an annual solar cell production capacity of over 50 megawatt (MW) and 15 MW of module production.Article continues below…
It is estimated that the potential future capacity of the plant could be expanded to 200 MW.
At the launch of the facility, Silex Systems CEO Dr Michael Goldsworthy said that it was an exciting day for the company, and also for the entire solar industry in Australia.
“Silex’s acquisition of the plant will effectively avert a total shut-down of the solar manufacturing industry in Australia.
“We now have a solid foundation to continue the great heritage of solar technology innovation and development that made Australia a world leader in this industry over the past three decades.”
In late 2008, BP Solar announced that operations at the plant had become untenable, citing the intention to focus on larger scale operations in the lowest cost manufacturing countries. BP also expressed concerns about the physical location of the plant, its potential for expansion and inhibitive lease agreements.
“The challenge for solar power is to reduce its costs to the level at which it competes on an equal footing with conventional electricity delivered through the power grid. To do this we need to expand at scale and reduce costs,” said CEO of BP Solar Reyad Fezzani at the announcement of the plant’s closure.
Not deterred, SilexSolar bought the plant from BP Solar.
“One thing led to another and by the middle of 2009, we had completed the acquisition of this facility for a paltry $7 million,” Mr Goldsworthy said of the purchase.
The incentive to buy was further enhanced by partial tax rebates offered to SilexSolar by the New South Wales Government under the Industry and Investment NSW scheme, provided that the company meet certain employment milestones.
While these milestones have not been specified, the company currently employs 20 staff, and is expected to employ a further 80 by the first half of 2011.
Initially, the plant will produce cells and modules using an optimised form of conventional mono-silicon processing, with a conversion efficiency of approximately 17 per cent.
Ultimately, Silex hopes that novel materials, such as those being developed by the company’s US-based subsidiary Translucent Inc, will provide further performance and economic advantages.
SilexSolar is a wholly owned subsidiary of Silex Systems, which was established in 1988 as a technology research and development subsidiary of Sonic Healthcare Limited, an Australian publicly listed company.
In 2001, Silex moved into the semiconductor technology field with the acquisition of a 30 per cent interest in Translucent Inc, a Silicon Valley company developing silicon photonics technology for the photonics/optical communications industry.
In 2006, Translucent filed two provisional patents for the development high efficiency solar cells and thermoelectric energy conversion.
Currently the SilexSolar plant is servicing a national market with plans to develop export sales capacities, says Rod Seares, General Manager of Silex Solar.
So far, Mr Seares continues, the largest demand for solar PV products comes from residential homes.“ The majority of our product is finding its way on the roofs of average Australian [homes],” he said.
Crucial to the growth of the SilexSolar, Mr Seares says, will be federal policy confirmation and development.
Already, the company is considering additional local facilities and are working closely with Solar Systems, another Australian Silex group company, which has a PV concentrator factory in Melbourne.