Norway’s Renewable Energy Corporation opens one of the world’s largest solar panel production plants in Tuas, Singapore.
The solar energy market in Singapore is still in its infancy but one of the world’s largest producers of polysilicon and wafers for solar applications, the Renewable Energy Corporation, a Norwegian company, has chosen to play its cards here.
On Nov. 3, the company officially opened one of the world’s largest integrated wafer, cell and module manufacturing facilities in Tuas. The solar panels produced in 2011 at the new facility could, throughout their lifetime, produce enough electricity to meet the yearly energy needs of 150,000 Singaporean households.
A landmark S$2.5 billion was invested into the construction of the plant. It is the biggest ever clean technology investment made in Singapore, marking a milestone in the development of the local clean energy sector.
Guest-of-Honor, Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, joined by Leo Yip, chairman of the Economic Development Board, Janne Julsrud, Norway’s ambassador to Singapore and Ole Enger, REC’s president and CEO, attended the opening, which was followed by a plant tour.
“In the hour we will spend together for this [morning’s] ceremony, more energy will be delivered by the sun than is consumed by the world’s population in one year,” said Enger in his opening speech, putting into perspective the potential of solar energy. “Solar has enormous potential. But, abundant and clean is not enough. We’ve to be competitive.”
In tandem with the increasing urgency to decrease dependency on fossil fuel energy sources, the solar energy market has made leaps of improvements—the price per watt has fallen from US$70 in 1976 to US$4.50 in 2000 to less than US$2 today.
REC has an industry leading energy payback time of about one year, which in layman terms mean that it takes just one year for a solar panel to generate the same amount of energy used in its production.
According to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association Global Market Outlook 2014, the outlook for the global solar energy industry in the coming five years is expected to be a positive one.
In January 2009, the Italian government extended its Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme up to 200 kW. This means the solar system owner can value the electricity he produces himself at the same price as the electricity he consumes from the traditional power grid. If, over a time period, there is an excess of electricity fed into the grid, the solar system owner gets a credit for the value of the excess of electricity.
Coupled with good financing opportunities, a large availability of solar energy companies and a good public awareness of solar energy technology, the FiT scheme has also worked well in Germany. The nation is currently the world’s largest consumer of electricity sourced from solar energy, followed by Japan.
With Europeans forming the majority of its customer base, REC’s solar panels have found themselves in sectors as diverse as pig farms in Germany, auto dealerships in Hawaii and privately-owned family villages in Arguisuelas, Spain. At a kindergarten in Barcelona, its solar energy system, integrated with accessible electric meters and an electrical dashboard, serve the dual function of reducing carbon emissions while educating students about renewable energy and energy conservation.
Earlier this year, Changi Airport installed 561 REC solar modules on the rooftops of its Budget Terminal, which is expected to generate over 300,000 kWh per year and achieve an annual reduction in carbon emissions of approximately 150,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
|CN PHOTOS: Michael Chan|
The outlook report also states that the demand for solar energy sources in a country is heavily dependent on the general economic climate and most importantly, on governmental support schemes. Countries such as Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico have been tagged as potential markets in the coming years, with political will being a decisive factor for solar energy to develop into a major power source.
Despite being headquartered more than halfway across the world in Oslo, REC picked Singapore out of 200 other sites due to the strong local government backing as well as the quality of its workforce—underpinning the nation’s ranking as the world’s easiest place to do business, according to the World Bank. “The skilled workforce who could transfer years of semiconductor knowledge to the young solar industry was what we found quite unique,” said Enger.
The project was not without challenges. When construction started in June 2008, it was abruptly hit by the worst financial crisis since the 1920s. However, not only was the project completed on time, it was built 20 percent below the budgeted costs. Rounding up his speech, Enger said, “We are confident with the completion of REC’s plant that solar is here to stay and will be an important energy source in the coming years. REC’s high performance solar technology and Singapore’s global competitiveness together create a center of excellence that will make smart energy for a cleaner future more accessible.”