Australian auto parts specialist IXL is branching into a new business with the opening of a new plant in South Australia to assemble and deliver the mounting structures for the country’s biggest solar PV power plant.
The Adelaide factory is being opened to service the construction of the combined 155MW (AC) capacity of the solar farms being built at Nyngan and Broken Hill in western NSW by US manufacturer First Solar, on behalf of AGL Energy.
The Geelong-based IXL was facing the loss of a major strand of its business with the collapse of the Australian car manufacturing industry, but says that solar represents a significant new business opportunity.
IXL has historically specialised in metal stamping and roll-forming for the local automotive industry, but is now looking at other industries where its expertise can be used. It sees mounting structures for solar farms as a natural extension of its business.
Chairman Robert Blackwell says the company believes solar can become a significant industry in Australia, and that locally made systems can be “more than competitive” with imported framing systems.
“We’re hoping to build a substantial long term business in this sector,” he told RenewEconomy. However, this was currently their only contract, and the growth of the industry was likely to depend on government policy.
“There is an opportunity for more utility scale and smaller projects. One factor will be the outcome of the RET (renewable energy target) review,” Blackwell said. “My feeling is that there are a number of people (project developers) holding back until outcome is known.
The plant is located in Salisbury South, in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. It will produce about 100,000 mounting structures for the Nyngan and Broken Hill projects, using over 6,000 tonnes of Australian-made steel.
The Adelaide location was chosen over Victoria because it would save on freight costs to the Broken Hill plant, and Blackwell said it was likely to be close to new projects.
The plant, which was supported by around $800,000 in funds from the Automotive New Markets Program (ANMP), backed by the federal and Victorian governments, is expected to create about 40 local jobs
“As the solar industry continues to grow in Australia, there will be an increasing need and demand for a reliable and efficient local supplier base,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Vice President of Business Development for Asia Pacific.
“Continued utilisation of local suppliers will not only reduce the cost of delivering solar power to Australia, but it will also create local jobs, develop regional skills and support more sustainable employment.”
First Solar says local procurement accounts for 56.3 per cent of its spending on the Nyngan and Broken Hill projects, with over 450 direct construction jobs expected to be created and over $66 million spent on local equipment for both projects.
IXL also provided the frames for First Solar’s, and Australia’s, first utility scale solar farm, the 10MW Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia in 2012.
Even though First Solar is building the 155MW solar farm in NSW, and is poised to announce a 5MW plant at a remote mining operation – the first in the country – it has also warned that the solar industry could be handcuffed if the renewable energy target is dismantled or heavily diluted.
It says the opening of the Adelaide plant “tells a positive story of job creation, the transfer and development of regional skills and sustainable industry development in Australia”.