Korean solar panel maker expands Dalton, Georgia, plant with 470 more workers

One of the world's biggest solar panel makers made it official Thursday, confirming it will invest $171 million to expand its facility in Dalton, Georgia and add 470 more jobs in Whitfield County.

The Korean solar panel maker Hanwha Qcells, which already employs 750 workers at its 200,000-square-foot factory built three years ago in the Carbondale Business Park in Dalton, said by the summer of 2023 it will produce 1.4 gigawatts of solar modules per year made with Qcells' next generation TOPCon cells.

"Our additional investment in Dalton will help Qcells better serve the needs of U.S. customers with increased local manufacturing capacity," Qcells CEO Justin Lee said in an announcement of the plant expansion in Dalton. "Georgia has become the clean energy manufacturing heart of America, and we are proud to contribute to the state's advanced manufacturing economy."

Located near the company's existing 1.7-GW factory in Dalton, the plant addition will bring Qcells' total capacity in the U.S. to 3.1 GW, equivalent to one-third of the country's solar module manufacturing capacity. Groundbreaking is planned for fall 2022 and operation is expected to commence within the first half of 2023.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp welcomed the additional Korean investment.

"The state of Georgia and Korea have enjoyed an outstanding partnership for decades, supported by a dedication to relationship building," Kemp said. "I am thankful that Qcells' facility will ensure Whitfield County remains a hub for manufacturing as we continue to prioritize bringing jobs and opportunity to all parts of our state, including our rural communities."

The investment is part of the effort by Qcells and other solar panel manufacturers to improve the U.S. solar supply chain. In March, Qcells' parent company Hanwha Solutions became the largest shareholder of U.S. polysilicon manufacturer REC Silicon to secure reliable supply of the raw material crucial to solar panel manufacturing.

"There is no doubt that we are witnessing the rebirth of the solar panel manufacturing industry in the United States, and Qcells is a pioneer in that movement," Pat Wilson, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said in a statement Thursday. "In 2019, the company opened their state-of-the-art facility in Dalton, which ultimately became the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere. Today we celebrate not only the successes of the past, but the future that Qcells brings by expanding their footprint in Georgia.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, also applauded the new investment and pledged he will work "to make Georgia a world leader in renewable energy innovation and manufacturing."

The American solar industry, which is working to expand renewable power generation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit climate change, faces major headwinds with supply delays and interruptions in getting equipment for new solar generation.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said more than 315 solar projects have been delayed or canceled and solar installation for 2022 and 2023 could be nearly cut in half due to supply chain problems and concerns about the inquiry launched by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The delays are pushing back major solar installations planned by TVA and Georgia Power Co., among others. TVA President Jeff Lyash told the TVA board earlier this month that TVA has had some setbacks in developing new solar arrays.

"Some of our projects have been delayed by up to a year in getting them in service because of the problems in the availability of solar panels," he said.

Amid the shortage of supplies, Lyash said costs have also jumped for some supplies by up to 50%.

"We have to face this reality," Lyash said, noting that some projects won't come online as fast as originally envisioned.

Georgia Power recently announced that nearly 1,000 megawatts of planned solar installations are now delayed by a year, as supply chain issues slow the company's transition to renewable energy.

"Energy production from solar increased in the U.S. by 20 percent in 2021," Jevin Jensen, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement Thursday. "We are excited to partner again with Qcells on this major expansion, which will boost our contribution to the growing renewable energy sector and continue to diversify our solid manufacturing base in Whitfield County."

Qcells said it will be hiring for positions in engineering, finance, production, and related functions. Interested individuals can learn more about working at Qcells by searching Qcells, Dalton on indeed.com.