Building to start on Norway solar firm’s S’pore plant

Building to start on Norway solar firm’s S’pore plant

 

(SINGAPORE) Rapidly growing demand for solar energy products, spurred by rocketing oil prices, has led Norway’s Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) to start construction this month of phase one of a $6.8 billion plant here.

 

REC expects to decide next year on phase two of the Tuas View complex, which will add ‘substantial capacity’ to its Scandinavian and US facilities. The complex will be the world’s biggest integrated solar manufacturing plant.

 

The facility – comprising separate wafer, cell and module plants – will incorporate cutting-edge technology, REC senior vice-president Oyvind Hasaas said yesterday.

 

The go-ahead for the Singapore investment comes despite REC’s concern about rising costs and inflation here. Electricity tariffs, which have shot up 18 per cent to $200 per megawatt hour in the last eight months, are also an issue.

 

REC president and chief executive Erik Thorsen, who announced the plant in October last year, said via video-conference yesterday that ‘our entry into Singapore ensures continued revenue growth beyond the significant growth to come from all the ongoing capacity expansion across all of REC’s business activities’.

 

‘Based on this expansion, REC should be producing 2,400 megawatts (MW) of wafers, 780 MW of cells and 740 MW of modules in 2012, and this will secure a significant presence in key markets,’ he added.

 

Phase one of the Singapore plant, expected to start operating in the first quarter of 2010, will reach full capacity of 740 MW of wafers, 550 MW of cells and 590 MW of modules by 2012. Its annual turnover then is estimated to be about $2.5 billion. Phase two will double capacity.

 

REC has four plants in Norway and Sweden and plans to double its Norwegian wafer capacity from 650 MW to 1.3 gigawatts (GW). Solar energy is expected to be at parity prices with electricity in some markets by 2012, with this varying from country to country depending on ‘sun hours and energy (electricity) costs’, said Mr Hasaas.

 

Demand for solar energy is growing 30-40 per cent a year, he added. REC has said that worldwide power output from solar products is expected to rise from the two GO now to 20 GO by 2010.

 

Cost is a key factor for REC. It disclosed yesterday that it ‘carried out extensive value engineering over the past nine months, which has significantly reduced the capital expenditure for phase one’.

 

This includes compressing the site to optimise land use and reducing pipe racks and distances between its three plants.

 

‘Cost levels should enable us to compete profitably at grid-parity prices in several markets, which is essential in building a robust business case,’ Mr Thorsen said.

 

One of the main raw materials needed is specialised glass or solar polysilicon. Norsun, a Norwegian solar manufacturer that is setting up a US$300 million plant here, is sourcing this from Saudi Arabia as it is energy-intensive to produce.

 

REC officials said that the polysilicon will be shipped to Singapore from its US facility, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of the raw material.

 

Phase one of its Singapore project will require about 80-100 MW of electricity, which REC is discussing with generating companies. It will eventually need about 200 MW of electricity when phase two is up and running. So it is considering building its own combined heat and power plant, or getting a genco to build, own and operate it on its behalf.

 

REC will employ 1,110 workers – wafers (360), cells (280) and modules (470) – in the first phase.

 

Economic Development Board managing director Ko Kheng Hwa said: ‘We will work closely with REC to build a strong base of supporting industry, to help ramp up its manpower recruitment and to implement an extensive training programme for production to start in early 2010.’

 

Piling work on phase one – taking up 49 hectares of REC’s 97-ha Tuas View site – will start at the end of this month, with 4,000 to 5,000 workers expected to be employed at the peak of construction.

 

Source: Business Times

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