Qcells, the solar division of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corp., plans to invest more than $2.5 billion to grow its manufacturing capacity in the U.S., the company said Jan. 11, marking its largest clean energy investment to date.

The planned supply chain buildout includes a new facility in Georgia designed to manufacture 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of solar ingots, wafers, cells and finished panels. The company said it also intends to boost solar panel assembly operations by 2 GW at its existing facility in Dalton, Ga.

The plan paves the way to a fully-integrated, silicon-based solar supply chain from raw material to finished panel for Qcells, the company said. It would also lift Qcells’ total solar panel production capacity in Georgia to 8.4 GW by 2024.

The company said it would create nearly 2,500 direct jobs and strengthen its position as one of the top solar module manufacturers for the residential and commercial markets.

“As demand for clean energy continues to grow nationally, we’re ready to put thousands of people to work creating fully American-made and sustainable solar solutions, from raw material to finished panels,” Qcells CEO Justin Lee said.

Solar companies have been incentivized by the U.S., via the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) enacted in 2022 among other means, to grow domestic production of renewables as the country aims to green electricity grids, reduce emissions and strengthen the economy.

Incentivizing action

The IRA provides tax incentives to help spur that growth. The Advanced Manufacturing Production Tax Credit (45X MPTC) provides tax credits for each clean energy component produced in the U.S. across the solar PV supply chain.

Another incentive, the Advanced Energy Project Investment Tax Credit (48C ITC) offers a tax credit for building and commissioning a manufacturing facility for clean energy components, according to the Department of Energy. Photovoltaic components include polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules along with cadmium telluride powder, mounting equipment and inverters.

Calling Qcells’ investment a direct result of the IRA, U.S. President Joe Biden said the investment is “a big deal” for the national economy and Georgia.

“It will bring back our supply chains so we aren’t reliant on other countries, lower the cost of clean energy, and help us combat the climate crisis,” Biden said in a statement. “And it will ensure that we manufacture cutting-edge, solar technology here at home. It’s a win for workers, consumers and our climate.”

As part of the IRA, the 45X MPTC was created and the 48C ITC was expanded. Companies can claim either of these tax credits for a project, but not both.

Solar Energy Industries Association
(Source: Solar Energy Industries Association)

Getting bigger

Qcells said it will break ground on the new facility, which will be located in Cartersville (northwest of Atlanta), in first-quarter 2023. The company intends to start commercial production in late 2024.

The facility will become the company’s second factory in the state, following the Qcells’ Dalton factory that opened in 2019 with a 1.7 GW module manufacturing capacity. In May 2022, Qcells announced plans to expand the Dalton plant to 3.1 GW. News on Jan. 11 of additional expansion plans bumps that up to 5.1 GW.

“This new investment on the federal level is critical to providing certainty for investors to go bold on clean energy,” Qcells said of the IRA. “The demand for American-made solar panels is increasing rapidly, driven by the efforts to ensure energy independence, and Qcells’ domestic manufacturing expansion will fulfill the growing need for these clean energy solutions.”

The U.S. has sights set on reducing its dependence on imports of clean energy products such as solar panels as the country turns to renewables and low-carbon energy sources to improve air quality. The nation hopes to have 50 GW of domestic manufacturing capacity across all key segments of the solar industry by 2030.