Heliene, a Canadian solar panel manufacturer, officially unveiled its new solar panel assembly lines to the public this week in Iron Mountain, Minnesota. The company has been operating a 150 MW factory there since 2018. These lines are still making traditional 60- and 72-cell modules using older equipment, but now brand new equipment will be making solar mono and bifacial modules with half-cut cells right next door in a facility with an annual capacity of 420 MW. Over 100 members of the public, US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota’s Tina Smith, state senators and local media attended the inauguration of Heliene’s new manufacturing lines along with world-renowned solar energy entrepreneur Martin Pochtaruk, who choked up while thanking employees for making expansion possible. The expansion will bring Heliene’s total Minnesota jobs to 100.
Heliene began construction of its solar panel assembly facility before the passage of tax credits for manufacturing, which is the company’s first solar panel assembly facility and a portent of the future. The factory was built from the ground up in less than a year and production equipment was delivered just five weeks ago. The lines are scheduled to begin full test runs next week and Heliene is already focused on the future. Pochtaruk announced that Heliene will spend $7 million on modernized equipment for its original 150MW plant, doubling its capacity to 300MW. All this should be ready by July 2023. This will make Heliene’s manufacturing campus in Minnesota the second largest crystalline silicon solar module factory in the United States.
Below is a few fun facts about Heliene’s new production lines:
- The new factory now has four cell stringers accessed by two robots, preventing costly downtime in the event of equipment failure. The company’s first factory had two cell stringers accessed by a robot that could shut down all production if the older equipment faltered.
- The new automated equipment is said to reduce labor by 70%, making Heliene solar panels better able to compete with cheap Asian imports. The company still plans to hire 60 people for the new lines, with more to come as additional shifts are added.
- With plenty of room to expand even further and plenty of local support, Heliene is evaluating the possibility of possibly starting manufacturing solar cells to discontinue depending on imports.