On the eve of the solar industry’s biggest tradeshow, Dan Shugar, CEO of solar tracker manufacturer Nextracker, addressed a crowd at the company’s latest factory opening in Las Vegas. The factory’s inauguration fell on the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Shugar said there’s significance in expanding domestic solar manufacturing on the date of that national tragedy.
“When we look at all the conflicts that have happened since 1973 around the world, half of those conflicts have a root in energy security as it relates to petroleum and other things,” he said. “Just a year ago, Vladimir Putin weaponized energy against Europe with cutting off gas and things like that. Sometimes when these events happen, it’s hard to know what we can do to respond. But the one thing we’re all doing is advancing energy security and that helps solve that problem.”
This is Nextracker’s sixth tracker manufacturing plant opening in the United States since 2022. Like its other factories, this facility is operated by a contract manufacturer to solely produce torque tubes, the rotating structural element in a single-axis solar tracker, from coiled steel. The facility is being run by Unimacts, an international industrial manufacturer, and is currently employing 100 people in Las Vegas.
The factory has been operating for six months, and torque tubes were being shaped during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The tailwinds the solar industry is experiencing is bolstered by the subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act. Shugar said it’s not just enabled Nextracker to open new dedicated factories, but also expand its existing operations. The company even exported a tracker system produced in the United States this year.
“A year ago, obviously, the IRA was passed, and that is incentivizing companies like Nextracker, companies like Unimacts to invest,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “And since the passage of the IRA, there have been 59 announcements of new solar manufacturing within the United States.”
.@NEXTracker officially cut the ribbon on its new plant with contract manufacturer Unimacts in Las Vegas. The line has been up and running for several months, and you could hear it going in the background this morning pic.twitter.com/H6mm0fpZBF
— Billy Ludt (@SolarBillyL) September 11, 2023
When Solar Power World visited Nextracker’s plant in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania, there were plans to add another manufacturing line to the factory floor. The company has already leased another building near its Las Vegas facility to expand its output for the Southwest market.
David Crane, the under secretary for infrastructure with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, spoke at the event, and shared a statistic that more than 90% of utility-scale solar projects in the United States use single-axis solar trackers. The DOE is also tackling decarbonizing heavy industrial manufacturing in the United States, and solar will be a major component in that effort.
“I will tell you what the department is actually trying to do now in the areas that I’m directly responsible for, which are hydrogen, long-duration energy storage, carbon capture, industrial carbonization and the nuclear budget,” Crane said. “We’re basically trying to duplicate the success that the solar industry has had over the last years in terms of scaling up and getting cost down. You’re not only the foundation for the future, but you’re also the role model in terms of what we’re trying to achieve.”
The industry is heading into the biggest solar show in the United States during the country’s most prolific year for solar output. Federal subsidies are available to manufacturers, system owners and the companies installing solar; and the latest developments in solar technology will be in Las Vegas this week. So, watch Solar Power World for more coverage of RE+, and to see where the U.S. solar industry is heading next.