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Ohio Set To Open One Of The Largest Solar Factory Complexes In The World 

The company known as First Solar revealed plans this week to double its manufacturing in the United States by building a new factory in Ohio. This construction would give Ohio the largest solar factory complex in the world outside of China. 

The investment is currently valued at $680 million and marks First Solar’s third factory in the Toledo area. First Solar is the only major manufacturer of solar panels headquartered in the United States. 

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First Solar said it believes “this will be the largest fully integrated solar manufacturing complex in the world — outside of China. It will be capable of making one solar module every 2.8 seconds, and it will primarily supply America’s booming market for clean energy.”

“This investment really helps us position the United States on solid footing to achieve its objectives of energy independence and security – and having US manufacturing enable it,” First Solar CEO Mark Widmar told the media.

This expansion will also work to fulfill the Biden Administration’s goal of cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Ramping up renewable energy sources, like solar power, are key for accomplishing this goal. 

China currently makes most of the materials required for producing photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and its supply chain has been completely tainted within the past year due to trading issues and allegations of forced labor. 

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“China largely dominates the PV supply chain. But unlike many other major solar manufacturers, we’re not dependent on China. That’s because our thin-film PV panels do not rely on the popular crystalline-silicon technology that is made mostly in China. Renewables created this great promise of liberation and energy independence. But the dominance of the Chinese has taken over this industry. It really undermines the opportunity we created when renewables became reliable,” Widmar explained. 

The new facility in Ohio is projected to be 1.8 million square feet, and would allow First Solar to produce around half of all their solar panels in America. The new facility couldn’t have come at a better time for the nation either, as the solar power capacity in America in 2020 was the highest it’s ever been, and that capacity is set to quadruple by 2030, meaning more of the nation will have the infrastructure required to make solar energy more accessible. 

The biggest concern, according to Widmar, will be finding workers who are experienced in the field and able to come work in Ohio full time. 

“There clearly is a shortage of qualified workers. It is a concern of ours. Due to the constrained labor market, First Solar plans to lean more on automation than it normally does. In addition to robots, First Solar plans to use automated and guided vehicles to move materials. For example, the fork lifts at the new facility will all be automated,” Widmar said.

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Africa’s First Solar Powered Village To Be Used As A Blueprint For Renewable Cities

Id Mjahdi is a small community located near Morocco’s Atlantic coast. What was previously thought of as just a small town in a sunny place is now making headlines as Africa’s first fully solar powered village. As of this month, the entire village became completely dependent on solar energy as its power source. Not one city in the entire continent of Africa has ever taken advantage of solar technology to this degree before. 

Currently, less than 1% of the solar power being used globally today comes from Africa. Even more astounding, Africa has the highest potential to use solar power exclusively as a power source, due to its positioning in relation to the equator and sun exposure. However, the continent overall lacks the ability to support all the infrastructure that goes into using solar power, but Id Mjahdi is changing that. 

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Morocco in general gets 35% of its electricity and power from renewable energy sources, and by 2030 that percentage will increase to 50%, according to IRENA. The country also is already known for housing the world’s largest solar powered farm, the Noor-Ouarzazate complex. Id Mjahdi is now further contributing to Morocco’s renewable energy use and is being used as the “blueprint” for other villages in the continent that can use solar power over standard electricity. 

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Cleanergy is the solar power company that was behind powering the entire village. The company had a goal of creating a sustainable model for bringing complete solar power to remote and underdeveloped communities. When they created the plan, they looked for a village in which electricity could greatly improve the community members ways of life without completely industrializing the village. When they came upon Id Mjahdi, they knew it would be the perfect place to implement the first version of their solar power model; before the solar panels were installed, villagers would use candle light to work, and tree bark for heat and cooking purposes. They didn’t even have a close clean water source. 

“The first step in the $188,000 project was to build a water tower for the community. The next stage was to install a power station with 32 solar photovoltaic panels, which generate 8.32 kilowatts of electricity for distribution via a mini-grid. The power station is connected to around 20 homes in the village, serving more than 50 people,” according to Mohamed Lasry, Cleanergy’s founder. 

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In addition, Lasry stated that each home was provided with a fridge, a water heater, television, oven, and outlets for charging. The network of solar panels throughout the village have a battery that can give up to five hours of electricity post-daylight hours (once the sun goes down). Now, the village is truly thriving. Previously, girls had to miss school to stay home and travel far to get clean water for their families, now, with the help of Cleanergy, they have the resources to give women and children a proper education. Cleanergy also helped the village create workshops for valuable life skills such as learning to read and write, train for scholarships, and learn traditional values. 

Lasry states that the model that was used for Id Mjahdi can be replicated and used for villages of 100 to 1,000 people. Currently there are 800 other Moroccan villages that are without electricity, and the World Bank estimates that worldwide over 840 million people don’t have access to electricity. However, the World Bank also estimates that using the mini-grid renewable energy systems, such as the one Cleanergy created, could give electricity to 500 million of those 840 million individuals by 2030. 

“Our plan is to show [Id Mjahdi] as an example. People change — they have more time, they can have money, they can go to the market, they can buy what they need. For deprived communities seeking economic stability that won’t hurt the environment, this solar village shines bright,” says Lasry.