Universal Solar America, a procurement and development service provider to large commercial and utility-scale solar contractors in the United States, plans to open a 600-MW solar panel assembly facility in Panama to supply the U.S. market. Solar Power World spoke with Universal Solar CEO and founder John Bereckis about the new plant, which has already signed agreements for 400 MW of its capacity and is negotiating an additional 175 MW.
“The prospect of tariffs on additional Asian countries has thrown the supply chain into turmoil, despite the Biden administration’s two-year pause [on AD/CVD]. Modules from Central America will give U.S. developers a much-needed alternative,” he said.
Bereckis said setting up in Panama was a “no brainer” since everything heading to U.S. ports on the East Coast already has to pass through the Panama Canal. Universal Solar’s 200,000-sq.-ft facility is located in the Colón Logistics Park in the Colón Container Terminal. It is in a free-trade zone, where goods can be imported and exported without incurring taxes or duties or being declared. The U.S. has had a free trade agreement with Panama since 2012.
Equipment for the plant should be installed by early October and up to 50 employees will be hired. Universal Solar expects first delivery of modules in the fourth quarter of 2022.
The site will initially have one line at 600 MW, but Bereckis said demand is already enough that a second 600-MW line could start as early as Q1 2023. Universal Solar can build two more similarly sized buildings at the terminal that could eventually support 5 GW of annual solar panel production.
The lines will have the immediate ability to produce 350- to 545-W panels. Therefore, Universal Solar is going after all market customers — residential, commercial and utility-scale. The site will support high-efficiency, mono-PERC module lines, and Universal Solar will offer a 25- to 30-year linear power output warranty and a 12- to 15-year material and workmanship warranty.
The company will use outside panel technology initially but will eventually transition to its own models.
“Just for the simple time frame, we are borrowing tech to get going,” Bereckis said. “We have been in the process of getting our own technology, and if things go well by the end of this year, the technology will be 100% ours. We obviously will utilize tech already in the industry, we won’t reinvent the wheel.”
Bereckis also said Universal Solar is looking into a raw wafer supplier and working with a company to make its own solar cells since the cell market is so “volatile” right now.
A grand opening for the Panamanian facility will be held later this year.