Florida module manufacturer flourishes

With a few exceptions, most of the news about solar module and cell manufacturing in the United States has been doom and gloom for the past few years, as was documented in reports filed by the International Trade Commission (ITC) in the Section 201 trade case. However, at least one Florida solar module manufacturing is planning on expanding next year – and bringing much-needed jobs to Puerto Rico in the process.

SolarTech Universal, which calls Riviera Beach home, plans on adding 30 workers to its Florida plant (which currently employs 45 people) and building a production facility in Puerto Rico that will employ 80, said Nathan Rosenstein, the company’s director of marketing in an email interview with pv magazine.

“We don’t spend much time focusing on why others fail,” Rosenstein said. “Our time is focused on how we can deliver a superior product and superior customer experience.”

The company produces 60-cell modules that include mono-PERC or Heterojunction solar cells that allows for higher efficiency and greater power generation.

However, Rosenstein did not shy away from criticizing other U.S. manufacturers, and said customers are willing to pay a premium to purchase modules manufactured in the United States if there is additional value to be had by doing so. Rosenstein stated that he had heard from SolarTech’s customers is that Suniva and SolarWorld frequently failed to deliver products on time, delivered damaged products or delivered products with papers that clearly showed they were not actually manufactured in the United States.

“Customers were willing to pay more for the products offered by the petitioners but customers stopped ordering because these companies couldn’t deliver and they lost market share,” Rosenstein said. “As they lost that market share, cash dried up.”

“It’s of course easier to blame others for your shortcomings than to have the introspection or self-awareness that the reason you failed was because of you.”

The plans to open a factory in Puerto Rico represents a “tremendous opportunity” to serve areas that need solar electricity, including Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. In general, island residents pay far more for electricity than their mainland counterparts.

Rosenstein added there is a highly skilled workforce in Puerto Rico that makes it an attractive place to put a factory despite the aftermath of the two hurricanes that devastated the island earlier this year. Despite the destruction, however, SolarTech Universal plans to open its factory in the fourth quarter of 2018.

In 2017, SolarTech’s Florida factory is expected to produce 140,000 modules at its current plant, which it says is enough to power 5,000 homes.