3 November 2010 was another milestone for the Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) from Norway when its mega plant for solar cells was inaugurated in Tuas, Singapore. The opening ceremony was attended by its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, joined by Leo Yip, Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB) and some 500 guests.
Leo Yip, Chairman, EDB congratulated REC on the successful completion and opening of its world-class solar manufacturing plant, delighted that Singapore was made a home for its solar activities.
“EDB will continue to work with REC and other industry partners to strengthen the clean energy industry ecosystem through initiatives in research and innovation, as well as development of specialised manpower and supplier base,” he said.
“We are confident 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 centre of excellence that will make smart energy for a cleaner future more accessible,” Ole Enger, CEO of REC commented their largest single investment so far. It is one of the largest offshore investments ever made by a Norwegian company.
Already a leading producer of silicon and wafer, REC is shaping the future of the solar energy industry, a vision that is shared by Singapore.
It is now ramping up is capacity, after a successful and earlier than expected start of the production, it is one of the world’s largest complexes of its kind (could hold a production capacity of up to 1.5 GW).
Just over two years ago it had been expected that the integrated ‘green field’ manufacturing complex for production of wafers, cells and modules in Singapore would be ready to start operations in 2010.
But expectations were strongly exceeded; the facilities stood ready to install the production plant already in October 2009 after a speedy 16-month construction period. Module no. 1 million was produced on October 17 this year, well ahead of plan and before reaching full capacity.
Also, REC reported strong performance in the initial phase regarding both cell efficiency and module production.
In August cell module was already up in 100 per cent capacity while cell production reached full capacity in October. Wafers was on 80 per cent capacity (and yet 63 % better than expected) while this component is also imported from their Norway plant.
The final choice fell on Singapore due to the country’s business-friendly environment, strong manpower semi-conductor experience.
“Singapore is very much run as a well regulated corporate enterprise,” commented Pål Elstad, Head of Finance, REC Singapore. And they have a long-term perspective; wanting us to be here for the long run.”
Key components for REC were also the availability of qualified personnel and investment incentives provided by EDB.
REC has good access to competent and qualified staff from relevant and highly competitive industries, and where enough personnel cannot be sourced within the country the authorities allows higher foreign quotas.
Out of today’s 1400 employees 523 come from Malaysia with an additional 286 with permanent residence mostly also from there, while 317 are Singaporeans. The competition for skilled Singaporeans is very tough, explained Pål.
Furthermore Singapore’s emphasis on becoming a leader within renewable energies played a big part. It has articulated an exciting vision and plan to develop the solar industry as a key growth area for its economy, which places REC in an advantageous position.
REC has demonstrated its further commitment by significantly increasing its R&D resources in Singapore.
So while REC’s establishment in Singapore is the single biggest investment in the growing clean energy sector here so far, it is also an exemplary showpiece of FDI in a country which also corresponds well with its goals. Clean technology is profoundly integrated within Singapore’s business activities.
This year Changi Airport chose REC as the provider to install REC panels that will offset 74 tons of CO2 annually.
Also, the Housing Development Board of Singapore (HDB) is buying REC solar modules for rooftops of HDB homes, as the agency aims to play a key role in supporting Singapore’s commitment to sustainable development.
While REC is a relatively young company it has helped boosting the emergence and advancement also of other Norwegian companies within solar energy of which several have also followed and set up a foothold in Singapore: Tronrud Engineering has been a major supplier of equipment to REC since the start, delivering advanced production equipment and services. Prediktor is another which has specialized in Manufacturing Executing System deliveries, to become a world leading supplier of industrial IT solutions to the solar industry. Finally Metallkraft, a specialist in silicon carbide slurry recovery set up a recycling factory next door for the flurry from REC’s production.
The Singapore plant signifies a step change in volumes, costs and in the overall competitive position for REC, while the demand for solar energy is showing strong growth and is projected to rise significantly in the coming years. Installations of solar cells are expected to triple by 2013. The potential solar energy growth is nearly endless and would lead to enormous benefits on a broad scale. Meanwhile it is becoming more affordable and competitive as prices have come down over 50 per cent in recent years, which has to do with research and the materials being used and improving the processes. Technology improvements are crucial for the industry and REC is now even better equipped to play an instrumental role in the sector’s very promising future.