Silex to close Australian solar panel factory

Silex Systems will reportedly close the only Australian manufacturing facility of solar cells for PV panels due to tight competition from cheaper imported cells. The company is a subsidiary of Silex Solar.

The news follows a restructure announcement released by the company yesterday, which will see 30 jobs go at its Sydney Olympic Park plant. The restructure will involve management and operational changes that will help to improve the company’s competiveness in the global solar market.

Key changes would include the appointment of a CEO and replacing cells made by Silex Solar with third party cells from a new strategic partner.

“These are important changes that are needed to better position Silex Solar as a key player in the Australian PV panel solar industry – both in the residential rooftop market and the growing medium-scale commercial market,” Silex CEO, Dr. Michael Goldsworthy said in a statement.

Solar cell and panel manufacturer Silex Solar will continue to manufacture PV panels at its Sydney Olympic Park plant, including its news premium “Black Series” high performance PV panels which has rating of up to 275 Watts per panel; one of the highest in the world in terms of peak power density. The company will now import cells to replace the 40MW of capacity that it was producing at Olympic park.

The restructure announcement has created a bit of confusion with ABC reporting earlier today that Australia’s only solar panel factory will not close. But according to a report by Energy Matters, Silex Solar said ABC was incorrect and the company will continue to manufacture solar panels at it’s at its Sydney Olympic Park plant.

The ABC report said that the solar cell and panel manufacturer was facing a "very tough market" and that was the reason for its decision to close its western Sydney facility – a closure which will see 30 jobs cut from the company. The report included comments from Australian Manufacturing Workers Union which said the New South Wales Government decision to cut the state’s Solar Bonus Scheme was a contributing factor behind the closure. Spokeswoman for NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher told ABC that companies looking for commercial assistance in the solar market should approach the Federal Government for help, specifically through its proposed $10-billion clean energy fund.

However, a subsequent report by Energy Matters refuted the story stating that will continue to manufacture solar panels at its Sydney Olympic Park plant.

Energy Matters’ report reads: “We have been informed by Silex Solar the ABC report referenced below as it appeared earlier this morning is incorrect. Silex Solar will continue to manufacture solar panels at its Sydney Olympic Park plant. Key changes to the company include "replacing cells made by Silex with third party cells from a new strategic partner." This will involve around 30 redundancies.” To read report, click here.

Manufacturer’s Monthly has contacted Silex Solar to confirm if the company will indeed be closing Australia’s only manufacturing facility of solar cells for PV panels. Manufacturer’s Monthly  has yet to hear back from the company.

Manufacturer’s Monthly is also inquiring into another Aussie manufacturer of PV panels located in Victoria, Australian Solar Manufacturing.

Silex is expected to name its new strategic partner that will supply the cells with its annual results at the end of next week.

The company has been operating the Sydney Olympic Park plant for less than 2 years and will continue manufacturing solar cells at its overseas facilities.

Silex acquired the Sydney Olympic Park facility, which was at one time owned by BP Solar, in 2009. In July 2010, the company announced a significant expansion of its local production capacity with plans to increase its 13MW production capacity to 20MW. At the time the facility was said to be the largest photovoltaic manufacturing plant in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, a tighter domestic manufacturing market against the backdrop of cheaper product import saw Silex Solar CEO tell media that the flood of Chinese products into the local market was "trampling over Australian local manufacturing” in June this year.

Silex’s solar panels can be found on the roof of the Senate wing and the gardener’s compound of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra.

Further details of the business-restructure will be included in the Silex Systems full-year results, to be released to the ASX on 26 August 2001.

Image courtesy of ABC.