Next week’s Intersolar North America exhibit and conference provides an ideal time for American solar panel manufacturers to step up their game. With the latest tariff squabble supported by Suniva and SolarWorld, the confidence in American-made solar panels is low. Smaller manufacturers now have an opportunity to impress a larger pool of customers.
San Jose, California’s Auxin Solar is one of those panel manufacturers. The self-described “boutique solar” company will be exhibiting its mono- and polycrystalline modules at Intersolar North America in booth No. 8715. We talked with Mamun Rashid, president of Auxin Solar, to better understand what we can expect from the company in the coming year.
SPW: What is Auxin Solar’s module manufacturing history?
MR: Auxin Solar is an American manufacturer of solar panels established in 2008. We are headquartered in San Jose, California, where we have 100 MW manufacturing capacity in a 100,000-sq. ft facility.
SPW: Who are your customers?
MR: We are an OEM for Tier 1 brands. Over the years our market has shifted from various parts of the world due to evolving government incentives on solar and Asian competition. At the beginning 95% of our sales were in Europe, then it shifted to Australia, and now it is primarily in the United States. In Europe, we had several branch offices in Italy and Switzerland as well as a design center in Germany. In Australia, we had two branch offices. We are now fully focused on the U.S. market.
SPW: What types of panels does Auxin have available to the U.S. market today?
MR: Our focus is high efficiency and high PTC-rated modules. We supply 300-W (black-on-black) and 305-W (white-on-black) 60-cell modules and 350-W (black-on-black) and 360-W (white-on-black) 72-cell modules. In addition to the standard modules, we produce a variety of solar modules which are proprietary designs of our customers. These include BIPV, rack-integrated, bifacial, glass-on-glass and clear modules.
SPW: What do you think about the American solar panel market now with Suniva and SolarWorld exiting?
MR: This is an important time for us to reflect on American manufacturing and the importance of quality, especially for solar panels which are a 25-year investment by customers. Should we throw in the towel on American manufacturing and no longer produce what we consume? Or should we examine what is causing this and what must be done about it?
All things being equal, solar modules are not necessarily more cost-effective when produced in other regions. The bill of materials (BOM) dominates the cost, and module production has significant automation today. At high volumes, the higher labor, facility and utility costs get amortized, and the additional cost of producing here when compared to the cost of time and shipping on delivery from other regions is negligible.
Having said this, the cost of imported panels is lower. Why? Lower quality BOM and local government incentives in foreign countries. U.S. factories can’t compete with prices below their materials cost, and that’s why U.S. factories shut their doors one by one.
What is the most effective way U.S. government can help? Our government should adopt policies of other countries to truly protect local manufacturers by offering tax credits for locally made products only. All federal buildings or projects should be required to use Made in USA panels, not partial overseas-assembled panels. It does not make sense that any tax dollar-contributed projects use non-U.S.-made products. Regulation supporting truly locally made products give U.S. factories a chance to survive and grow. Foreign producers know what tricks to play with today’s anti-dumping laws; Suniva and SolarWorld still can’t survive.
Installers are motivated to maximize profits in the short term and customers want the best ROI on their systems. However, a solar system is expected to return yields over a 25-year period. When we opt for lower cost products, we must consider quality issues and customer support for the long-term.
SPW: How can Auxin take advantage of the big American-made hole now in the industry? Do you want to expand past boutique status?
MR: Most of our production and revenue is standard 60- and 72-cell modules. We highlight boutique solar because we can produce our customer’s proprietary designs using automation. This provides differentiated products at competitive pricing.
Our facility is designed to handle 600 MW production capacity. However, we are conservative in our growth plans. This is one of the reasons we are one of the few manufacturers still operational going into our 10th year.
We will continue to evaluate the American-made market opportunity and pull the trigger on expansion once we’re comfortable with the risks. The lead time to add another 200 MW capacity is two quarters.
SPW: What are you always working on in R&D?
MR: Better, faster, cheaper… as Intel says.
There are several things we are constantly working on:
- Better production processes to lower cost
- New bill of materials technology and better production recipes to improve efficiency
- Better designs for aesthetics
SPW: What’s the next advancement for solar panels?
MR: After four quarters, we have finished perfecting our PERC production process. In fact, we are one of the only U.S. and one of the few manufacturers worldwide to offer the high 60- and 72-cell power modules listed above. We have more head room, which will be released in subsequent quarters. We have begun shipping bifacial glass-on-glass modules. Our current R&D involves third generation integration of racking into solar modules.
For the industry, we expect to see incremental improvement in efficiency using current cell technology, further integration of racking, improved framing technology and storage integration at the system level.
SPW: What can the U.S. market expect from Auxin in 2017 and the future?
MR: As an OEM, we keep a low profile. Our customers are Tier 1 brands and we enjoy them strengthening their brand names with differentiated products and a Made in the USA product. We will be at Intersolar and SPI, and we are proud members of SEIA and CALSEIA.