RTE Energy plans solar module manufacturing plant for Australia

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Renewable energy company RTE Energy, a part of the broader RTE Group, plans to construct a large-scale heterojunction solar PV panel manufacturing facility, capable of producing 860 MW of modules per annum, within the Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct south of Townsville.

While details about the project remain scant, RTE revealed the manufacturing facility will allow for the production of heterojunction solar cells, utilising technology provided by Switzerland-headquartered manufacturer Ecosolifer.

Heterojunction solar cells, a technology already in large-scale production and expected to grow its market share significantly over the coming decade, rely on a layer of amorphous silicon to provide passivation and improve cell performance.

EcoSolifer commenced commercial production of its bifacial heterojunction solar cells in 2020 with a manufacturing line provided by heterojunction specialist Meyer Burger at a 100 MW factory located in Hungary.

The company said the cells produced at the facility have now reached a conversion efficiency of 24.1% but added the result was still be confirmed by a third party.

RTE said the heterojunction cells would be manufactured at its Townsville facility with modules to be assembled on site.

Ecosolifer claims the bifacial solar cell has 24.1% efficiency.

Image: Ecosolifer

Construction of the factory, which is to be partially powered by renewable energy with a solar farm to be built as part of the project, is forecast to commence in 2022. Construction of the solar farm, for which no details were provided, is set to begin in 2023. Manufacturing is expected to start in 2023, with full production by March 2024.

Townsville City Council said the project is expected to support an estimated 450 full-time equivalent direct and indirect jobs during its construction phase and about 825 jobs once operational.

Council said construction is expected to add about $59 million to the city’s gross regional product (GRP), while the total project budget is expected to add around $290 million.

The project would see RTE join Tindo Solar as Australia-based solar PV module manufacturers.

Tindo Solar, which has been manufacturing solar PV modules at its Mawson Lakes facility in Adelaide’s northern suburbs for more than a decade, is currently in the process of commissioning a new factory in Adelaide.

Module manufacturer Tindo is currently commissioning a new production facility in Adelaide.

Image: Tindo

The new facility will boost the company’s production capacity to 150 MW per annum and see Tindo transition to the latest M10 cell technology.

RTE is one of four companies which this week signed on to be part of the Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct, which aims to co-locate clean energy generation with industrial and manufacturing facilities across more than 2,000 hectares of dedicated land 40 kilometres south of Townsville.

Australian mining and minerals outfit Solquartz plans to construct a multi-module silicon smelter which will supply silicon to the solar PV and battery manufacturing industries.

Solquartz said the facility would produce 52,000 tonnes per annum of silicon metal and 9,100 tonnes of silica fume (powder).

The first phase of the smelter construction is forecast to start in 2023, with phase two to commence in 2025.

Also signing on was Origin Energy Future Fuels which is proposing to develop a commercial-scale green hydrogen production facility in the precinct while North Queensland Gas Pipeline has also been tentatively allocated space in the precinct.

Artists impression of Lansdown Eco-Industrial Precinct

Queensland government

The news comes after council formally agreed to partner with the Queensland Government to deliver a $16 million suite of road and rail projects to enhance access to Lansdown and the Australian Government committed $12 million for enabling infrastructure.

“The confidence in Lansdown is clearly on display,” Mayor Jenny Hill said. “We are now entering into the most exciting phase, with long-term proponents preparing to move into construction and new proponents from across Australia putting their hand up to also establish themselves at the precinct.”

The addition of the four companies as proponents follows Edify Energy, Queensland Pacific Minerals and Imperium3 Townsville signing on previously.

Renewables developer Edify Energy has been granted development approval to build and operate a green hydrogen production plant of up to 1 GW, as well as a behind-the-meter solar and battery storage facility within the precinct.

Queensland Pacific Minerals plans to produce battery-grade nickel and cobalt sulphate from a nickel-cobalt ore. Imperium3 Townsville is seeking to develop an 18 GWh lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facility, according to the council.

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