Hanwha Solutions to become the largest shareholder of Norway-based US polysilicon manufacturer REC Silicon after acquiring an additional 4.67% stake from Aker Horizons, increasing total investment to $204 million and ownership share to 21.34%.
United States solar industry is at a critical juncture. Despite long-term efforts
to decarbonise the electric grid with clean energy, the prospect of doing so
with American-made products remains uncertain. Most domestic solar
manufacturing facilities have closed after decades of struggle, prompting calls
across the country to revitalise US businesses dedicated to clean energy
In a bid to address this situation, Hanwha Solutions, the Korean energy-to-material company that owns complete energy solutions provider Q CELLS, has outlined a plan to secure capabilities across the full solar technology supply chain, with the goal of creating well-paying jobs, addressing climate change, and strengthening U.S. energy security. Operating the largest module production plant in the United States, Q CELLS is thought to be the number one module supplier in the U.S. residential and commercial solar markets and a leading player in the utility sector.
Now, Hanwha is becoming the largest shareholder of REC Silicon, a major U.S. manufacturer of polysilicon, the key raw material used to produce solar panels. This investment will help American businesses secure the raw material critical to the solar supply chain as global competition over clean energy sources intensifies in the coming years.
Moving forward, in tandem with the Biden administration's efforts to incentivize solar manufacturing in America, Hanwha intends to implement a multi-phase, multi-billion-dollar investment plan across the full solar value chain from, polysilicon to solar modules.
"Our commitment to the US is more serious than ever before," said Justin Lee, CEO of Q CELLS. "We plan to make investments to secure capabilities across the entire solar supply chain, with the goal of supplying our partners with 'Made in America' products that will help the U.S. regain its leadership in clean energy solutions."
Following its initial $160 million acquisition to acquire a 16.67 percent stake in REC Silicon in January 2022, Hanwha now becomes the largest shareholder of REC Silicon by acquiring an additional 4.67 percent stake from Aker Horizons, a sustainability investment firm that had been co-owner of REC Silicon with Hanwha Solutions. The deal is valued at around $44 million.
REC Silicon operates two polysilicon manufacturing facilities in the US: Moses Lake, Washington; and Butte, Montana. Their combined annual production capacity totals 18,000 metric tons (MT), including 16,000 MT of granular, solar grade polysilicon at Moses Lake, and 2,000 MT of electronic grade polysilicon at Butte.
Using hydropower-based clean energy, REC Silicon produces low-carbon polysilicon without emitting greenhouse gases. Compared to carbon-heavy polysilicon manufactured overseas that often relies on coal power, REC Silicon's "clean polysilicon" is expected to draw more demand in the coming years as international scrutiny over industrial emissions and carbon footprints grows.
Besides solar grade polysilicon, REC Silicon also manufactures other high-value materials such as electronic grade silicon and silane gas, which are essential for producing hi-tech devices including semiconductors, smartphones, flat screen televisions, laptops, and hybrid electric vehicles.
"Increasing energy market turbulence tells us why securing key raw material production is so critical," said a Hanwha Solutions spokesperson. "Given upward pressure on oil prices and scrutiny over the environmentally damaging impacts from fossil fuels, we believe that strengthening the renewable-based energy supply chain is important – and producing low-carbon solar material is a good starting point to achieve the goal."
The acquisition of REC Silicon is only the prelude to Hanwha's larger ambition of rebuilding the full U.S. solar supply chain.
Having secured a stable supply of key raw materials for photovoltaic panel production, the company intends to follow up with subsequent investments in virtually every sub-sector of the domestic solar manufacturing industry, ranging from key raw materials like polysilicon to fully assembled solar modules.
Currently, Hanwha operates what is said to be the largest module production facility in the U.S. through its solar panel business unit, Q CELLS. The Georgia-based factory can produce 1.7 gigawatts of solar modules per year, accounting for nearly 20 percent of total module production capacity in the United States.
Combining low-carbon polysilicon with premium solar modules, Hanwha aims to create a comprehensive and fully domestic solar supply chain. The initiative aims to support the Biden administration's efforts to decarbonize all electricity by 2035 and increase solar-based power generation to 40 percent.
The investment is also expected to add a substantial number of well-paying, local renewable energy jobs across America. Hanwha already employs up to 750 staff in Georgia at its module production facility. The company's intention is to create many times that number of new jobs with its planned investments.
"We imagine a Moses Lake factory brought back to life with local workers clocking in and operating the plant," said a Hanwha spokesperson, referring to the currently idle REC factory, which is planned to reopen in 2023. "Together with our module factory in Georgia and new planned investments, we will fulfill our pledge to create quality clean energy manufacturing jobs across the United States."
Crucial to achieving this goal are durable, long-term policies to attract and sustain domestic solar manufacturing in the United States. Policies aimed at rebuilding supply chains for renewable energy are becoming more important, with countries around the world looking to strengthen their domestic energy capabilities in their efforts to address climate change.
The Biden Administration has suggested a comprehensive, "whole-of-government" approach for achieving this, inclusive of smart trade policy, strengthened Buy American rules, and durable tax incentives. All are critical to facilitating investment. Applied in concert, they can create a scaled, globally competitive U.S. industry.
SEMA, introduced by Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, is one such effort to reshore the solar supply chain and build a clean energy future. The bill was included in the House of Representatives' clean energy and climate tax package and passed by the lower chamber of Congress last year.
Once passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will boost America's panel manufacturing capacity and create massive job opportunities in the solar industry. In a letter to President Biden, the SEMA Coalition, representing American solar manufacturers supporting the legislation, said that the bill would add more than 30 GW to domestic solar manufacturing capacity in the U.S. by 2025, creating 18,000 direct and 60,000 indirect manufacturing jobs.
"Enacting SEMA is key to fulfilling our pledge to rebuild the U.S. solar supply chain with fully 'Made in America' products," said the Hanwha Solutions spokesperson. "With a long term plan to support domestic solar manufacturing, we can help America lead the clean energy revolution and win the fight against climate change."