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Challenging China: Enel bets on Sicily for solar PV gigafactory

Enel Green Power
Italy’s (and Europe’s) biggest utility is expanding its solar panel gigafactory, aiming to turn Italy’s South into a green tech powerhouse – with the help of the EU – while countering the global dominance of Chinese products

Enel eyes Sicily for solar scale-up. The Italian utility, a world-class leader in renewable energy generation, is expanding its solar panel gigafactory in the underdeveloped Southern island to turn it into Europe’s largest – and the bloc’s most powerful resource to counter Chinese PV tech.

  • Reuters reports the operation will increase the factory’s production capacity 15-fold through a €600 million investment (generating roughly 1,000 jobs).
    • The plant’s current production capacity amounts to roughly 200 megawatts per year. It’s forecasted to rise to 3 GW by July 2024, upon completion of the expansion.
  • The EU fieldied €188 million to finance the scale-up, while Enel Green Power (the company’s renewables division) provided the rest.

Costlier, but better. European plants can hardly compete on prices with their Chinese competitors, given Beijing’s more-than-generous subsidies and its firm grip on the entire supply chain. But 3Sun – that’s the factory’s name – aims to gain the upper hand through quality.

  • The factory will produce high-performance bifacial solar panels, meaning both sides will generate energy from the light and allow the panel to convert 30% of that into electricity, compared with the usual 20%.
  • 3Sun’s panels will also be more durable than their Chinese counterparts.
  • “Our panels cost a little more but have higher efficiency, a longer average life and a much lower degradation than Chinese technologies,” said Eliano Russo, the head of 3Sun, to Reuters.

Energy security in focus. The bloc aims to generate 40% of its energy through renewables by 2030, compared to today’s 20%. Thus, solar PV is growing exponentially. But according to Eurostat, the bloc sources three-quarters of its panels from China.

  • Relying on Chinese tech also raises cybersecurity issues, as we previously reported.
  • Both Giorgia Meloni’s government and the European Union support 3Sun’s scale-up, in light of the bloc’s renewed focus on energy security and protecting its green tech industry from external competition.

Supplying the EU – and beyond. Enel is not limiting its ambitions to Europe, writes Reuters, although it says at least 50% of its Sicilian production will be for the continent. It will build a similar facility in the United States, as part of a broader initiative to expand its manufacturing capacity and benefit from tax credits granted under the US Inflation Reduction Act.

  • The company also sees Latin America as one of the most promising new markets for its panels.

Image: Enel Green Power

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