3Sun in Catania in Sicily, already one of the biggest solar panel manufacturing facilities in Europe, is set to increase output by 15 times. At the same time, it is the only factory for the mass production of bifacial panels, which capture sunlight on both sides.
The decision to expand the facility was made in January of last year. Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which led to a record surge in gas prices, gave the European Union additional impetus to accelerate the green transition and reduce dependence on Russian gas. In addition, it lowers the reliance on equipment imported from China, which is the top manufacturer in the sector.
“Renewable energy growth estimates for the next few years make a clear case for investing in the creation of a domestic production chain, which represents a strategic move for Italy and Europe, in order to balance demands for energy security and independence with the demands of the economy, of the employment market and of the environment,” Enel’s Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Francesco Starace said.
The annual capacity of 400 MW will be reached in September while full operational capacity is planned to be achieved by July 2024
The facility can currently produce up to 200 MW per year. The company’s Enel Green Power branch has been making solar cells there since 2010. The expansion process consists of two stages: an operational capacity of 400 MW will be available from September 2023, while full operational capacity, 3 GW of photovoltaic panels, will be reached by July 2024, the utility said.
Enel said it would introduce a new technology called tandem in the 3Sun Gigafactory. The solution significantly outperforms the efficiency of today’s photovoltaic cells, delivering over 30% more efficiency and improving panel reliability at the same time, according to the announcement.
Bifacial or two-sided panels are already being produced in Catania. On the back side of the device, electricity is generated using reflection, usually from white gravel on the ground.
The investment is valued at EUR 600 million including as much as EUR 188 million in grants from the European Commission through the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the Innovation Fund. The project is also known as TANGO (iTaliAN Giga factOry).
British company NextEnergy Capital is the most likely investor in a minority share
Enel announced that it entered exclusive negotiations on the sale of a stake in 3Sun and Reuters learned that NextEnergy Capital from the United Kingdom is the most likely investor.
The future gigafactory is part of Italy’s plan to become “Europe’s energy hub,” Minister of the Environment and Energy Security Gilberto Pichetto Fratin pointed out. The project will create 900 jobs in total, with another 1,000 in indirect jobs, Enel said.