Soitec dedication in Rancho Bernardo promises bright future
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Gov. Jerry Brown was among dignitaries in Rancho Bernardo to celebrate the dedication of Soitec’s new plant that when fully operational in late 2012 will lead to 1,500 jobs.
Soitec’s new North American solar factory will make concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) modules used on solar farms to generate electricity distributed via San Diego Gas & Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink that will be complete by mid-2012.
“I’m glad to be here for the dedication of Soitec’s manufacturing plant,” Brown said. “The expansion of clean energy businesses is a direct result of a law I signed that requires one-third of our electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. That’s a goal and we’re going to meet it.”
“This is a very exciting time for Soitec and San Diego,” said André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé, Soitec CEO. “This is the perfect technology for the new wave of growth in the solar market.”
He added, “We are proud to be part of your community.”
The Dec. 16 dedication was held a couple of days after Soitec purchased from Sony an 176,000-square-foot building on 14.8 acres at 16650 Via Esprillo in the Rancho Bernardo Industrial Park. It is across the street from Sony Electronic’s 11-story United States headquarters that opened in October 2009.
The acquisition and renovations are among Soitec’s $150 million investment in its new facility.
When operational in an estimated nine months, the facility will lead to the production of 200 megawatts annually — enough to power 75,000 local homes — through its fifth generation Concentrix CPV modules. When the plant opens, about half of its potential will be generated, according to Soitec officials.
The company plans to hire 450 employees — mostly computer engineers and technicians — but there could be more in a few years since the site can accommodate an expansion that could double capacity to 400 megawatts.
The plant is also projected to indirectly generate more than 1,000 jobs in the region.
“This is an exciting day for the city of San Diego,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders, who praised government, business, education and other entities for their collaboration that has made San Diego a growing clean tech cluster and financially viable location for Soitec’s plant.
Sanders called this an economic “victory.”
“Today is a good day in a period of economic uncertainty,” said Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who spoke about how public/private partnerships can improve the region’s economy.
Soitec officials estimate the company will directly contribute $22 million through its payroll and $23 million through sales tax revenues to the annual local economy.
“This is a tremendous shot in the arm to the local economy,” said Jessie Knight, SDG&E chairman and CEO.
Soitec has also announced that about 100 jobs at the site are due to a joint venture the France-based Soitec entered with the United States-based Reflexite Energy Solutions Inc. The venture, dubbed Reflexite Soitec Optical Technology LLC, will lead to the production of silicone-on-glass Fresnel lens plates used with the CPV modules to increase efficiency and lower costs of SOG lens plates. The efficiency is due to the lens concentrating sunlight more than 500 times and providing a more reliable, efficient system to generate electricity.
Auberton-Hervé said his company’s CPV will help California achieve its goals of utilizing natural resources while also protecting the environment and climate.
“It has been proven to be the most efficient and environmentally friendly solar technology,” he said.
He added that due to its unique design, it is ideal for the United States’ desert Southwest because it does not require cooling water and can withstand high temperatures.
Knight said its partnership with Soitec will help SDG&E reach the state’s goal of generating one-third of its energy production via renewable sources by 2020. As of the end of this year, he said almost 20 percent of SDG&E’s resources will come from renewables.
“This year we have signed a half-dozen renewable energy contracts with solar developers that will use Soitec’s highly efficient technology,” Knight said. “We will continue to make great strides in securing contracts for utility-scale renewable projects to leverage the ideal solar, geothermal and wind resources in the San Diego County, Imperial County and Baja California region.”
Knight said one of the benefits of Soitec’s modules is that energy will be produced in the mid-afternoon, “long after most solar panels quit producing,” which is good since the area’s peak energy consumption is after 4 p.m.
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