QCells’ head of market strategy on the company’s $2.5B expansion of US solar manufacturing


Hanwha Q Cells has become the most recent solar manufacturer to announce a sizable investment in the U.S. solar supply chain after the 2022 passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, pledging to spend $2.5 billion on expanding its manufacturing operations in Georgia.

The South Korean company will expand one plant to 5.1 GW of annual production capacity from 1.7 GW while opening a second plant that will produce 3.3 GW annually.

Scott Moskowitz, Qcells’ head of market strategy and public affairs, told Utility Dive that the company is looking to capitalize on demand for solar modules generated by solar tax credits in the IRA, while compensating for a simultaneous global supply crunch. 

Global solar module supply spiked in uncertainty for U.S. importers in 2022 following the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — which resulted in border seizures of solar module shipments — and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s investigation into potential tariff violations by the makers of imported solar components.

The uncertainty of global supply combined with the manufacturing tax credits in the IRA has given QCells additional incentive to invest in building out the domestic supply chain, though Moskowitz said the company had already been weighing an expansion. QCells is a subsidiary of South Korean industrial group Hanwha Corp., and the backing of a large multinational helped provide the confidence needed for such a steep investment.

Utility Dive spoke to Moskowitz about the factors behind the company’s Jan. 11 expansion announcement, the near-future for the solar industry and how the more efficient tunnel oxide passivated contact, or TOPCon, technology for solar panels is increasing its market share, competing with passivated emitter rear contact, or PERC.

TOPCon technology increases the conversion efficiency of panels it’s applied to, allowing the panel to convert more total energy per square inch. QCells currently produces both TOPCon and PERC panels, calling its Q.ANTUM line “the most mature PERC technology” — but the company appears to be shifting its focus to TOPCon. In May, QCells announced an expansion to its existing Georgia facility, and said that the new factory would produce only TOPCon panels. 

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

UTILITY DIVE: What were the biggest factors influencing this investment?

SCOTT MOSKOWITZ: For a couple of years now, we’ve been talking quite a bit publicly about the really strong need to invest in additional manufacturing, to focus on building out the supply chain broadly.

I think the industry has been really hungry for a robust, reliable and steady stream of products. Demand has certainly exceeded the supply of solar panels available to the U.S. market for several years now. So we have been focused on working toward some of the investment that we just made. 

QCells’ head of market strategy on the company’s .5B expansion of US solar manufacturing

Head of market strategy and public affairs Scott Moskowitz.

Permission granted by Hanwha Q Cells

 

There have been various steps to get here. We built our first factory in the U.S. back in 2018 in Dalton, Georgia, we invested in REC Silicon at the end of 2021. [In April 2022], we announced that we had begun an expansion of our Dalton facility from 1.7 gigawatts to 3.1, and now we’re able to see the rest of this investment take shape as a fully integrated supply chain that includes domestic manufacturing of ingots, wafers and cells, because there are currently no such facilities in the United States. For us, this is part of a big, long-term vision. The U.S. is our biggest market and has been for some time, and now we’re able to really make some landmark manufacturing investments that are going to help to further supply and grow this market.

UTILITY DIVE: How was that decision influenced by the Inflation Reduction Act?

SCOTT MOSKOWITZ: It plays an enormous part. That bill includes incentives specifically for manufacturers. It includes a long-term extension of the investment tax credit, it includes credit adders for domestically produced products. Demand was already extremely high and there had already been supply chain issues that folks were really committed to solving. So the IRA puts fuel onto the fire and creates a really strong opportunity in the sector moving forward.

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