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Orbiting the Sun: ‘Australian Made’ Solar Projects Jump-Start Local Manufacturing Sector

Posted 2 May 2013 11:47 AM by Matt Law

First Solar sparks local supply chain employment through its Australian projects

Renewable energy development is growing at impressive rates in Australia. In particular, if you’ve heard of Bill Bryson’s popular book, “In a Sunburned Country,” it’s no stretch to imagine the potential for solar generation in Australia. Solar energy is the most abundant of Australia’s natural resources, and should be playing a much larger role in Australia’s energy mix.

In fact, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) conducted a series of roundtables in Sydney and Melbourne aimed at promoting partnership between the United States and Australia on the financing of global renewable power generation assets. The events involved the Australian Trade Commission, Baker McKenzie (sponsor) and a 12-corporation delegation made up of key investors and developers from ACORE.

We are very pleased that First Solar was highlighted during one of these sessions as a best-practice example of a company furthering the large-scale solar industry in Australia. While delivering an address to a closed group of influential international and Australian stakeholders, the U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich discussed First Solar’s involvement in two watershed Australian projects:

  • The development of Australia’s first utility-scale solar project, the Greenough River Solar Farm (GRSF), in partnership with Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services; and
  • The Australian Government’s funding award of $129.7 million to First Solar and AGL to build a 159 MW photovoltaic project across two sites in New South Wales

Ambassador Bleich noted that, through these projects and others, First Solar is delivering a framework that can drive a long-term, sustainable PV market that is no longer dependent on government incentives. He also mentioned First Solar’s efforts to build the local industry through job creation and training.

First Solar’s strategy in Australia and around the world is to work with local suppliers whenever possible, helping to develop the local economies.

In the Australian market, for example, First Solar’s supply chain includes local partners Hofmann Metaltec and Backwell IXL. In partnering with First Solar, both companies have stimulated the local manufacturing industry and are creating local employment and training opportunities, contributing as well to Australia’s economy.

Hofmann Metaltec, a high-precision engineering solutions company, provides local supply of the specially-made brackets that hold First Solar’s photovoltaic panels (PV) in place. In tooling up its Cheltenham, Victoria-based factory to press these steel brackets, the company has created local jobs, expanded its workforce, offered training opportunities to new and existing staff and built up valuable industry expertise. Hofmann Metaltec is now primed to manufacture brackets for any of First Solar’s projects in the region.

ACORE Greenough

Backwell IXL is a Geelong, Victoria-based manufacturer that is working with First Solar on the local development of framing and electrical interconnection components for its PV arrays. At the height of construction on the GRSF project, First Solar was responsible for over 100 new product engineering and quality systems analysis and assembly jobs at Backwell IXL’s plant.

In working with First Solar, Backwell IXL has invigorated its operations and services and the development of staff. The company continues to work with First Solar on engineering the cartridge manufacturing process. Backwell IXL now has the expertise required to take advantage of future business opportunities in Australia’s clean energy sector, particularly as large-scale solar adoption increases in the local market.

The large-scale solar industry is reaching a tipping point in Australia, particularly following the launch of the country’s first utility-scale solar farm. First Solar will continue to invest in the local supply chain as it champions and grows the large-scale solar industry in this “sunburned country.”