Sicily is known for many things: Mount Etna, beaches, vineyards, architecture. Soon it will also be known for hosting the largest solar factory in Europe. Thanks to the TANGO project and funding from the EU Innovation Fund, the 3Sun factory is on its way to become Europe’s largest factory producing highly innovative next-generation solar panels, or photovoltaics.
What does it take to TANGO?
Located in Catania, the 3Sun factory is one of the largest solar panel production plants in Europe. It’s the first of its kind in Europe to mass produce bifacial panels with heterojunction technology (HJT). So what does all this mean? “Bifacial” panels can capture sunlight from their back surface, too, which means they are far more efficient than traditional ones because more clean energy is produced without major additional cost. They are also stronger and last longer, which lowers the consumption of raw materials. And “heterojunction” panels combine two different technologies: a crystalline silicon cell sandwiched between two layers of “thin film” silicon. Result: more energy is harvested than with traditional panels.
The TANGO project will be carried out by ENEL Green Power, one of the largest operators in the renewable energy sector in the world. TANGO aims to expand the 3Sun factory and turn it into the GigaFactory, the first European industrial-scale manufacturing plant for highly innovative solar panels. The production capacity will increase 15-fold, jumping from the current 200 MegaWatt (MW) of panels per year to 3 GigaWatt (GW) per year. What does this mean in practice?
- 3 GW of panels can generate around 5,5 GWh of renewable electricity per year, which is enough to cover the annual consumption needs of more than two million Italian households.
- The panels produced during the project’s first ten years of operation will avoid the equivalent of 25 million tons of CO2, which would be emitted if the same amount of energy was produced from fossil fuels. This is more than 30% of all the greenhouse gas emissions from public electricity and heat production in Italy in 2019.
Additionally, a highly innovative production process will be used in manufacturing to reduce the use of resources, while the project will apply new techniques to recover and reuse material from end-of-life photovoltaics. And last but not least, the future GigaFactory will create around 1,000 jobs in the region by 2024.
Europe as leader in the solar energy race
Europe is now leading in the production of heterojunction technology panels, which is already at commercial scale and recognised as game-changer in the photovoltaics market thanks to its high performance and overall energy gains.
Salvatore Bernabei, CEO of Enel Green Power and coordinator of TANGO, is looking forward to the brighter future: “TANGO is in line with the REPowerEU Plan and the EU’s goal of doubling solar photovoltaic capacity by 2025. Thanks to its technological innovation, it will improve the cell efficiency by about 40% compared to current PV technology, thus increasing significantly the energy generated by each MW installed ”. And of course, the project will become a model for other gigawatt-scale photovoltaics factories to be developed in Europe over the coming years.
The construction of the GigaFactory has already started and the project will enter into operation in 2023. The necessary investment is estimated at €600 million, nearly €118 million of whichwill be provided by the EU Innovation Fund. It is one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies, and a project like TANGO is a perfect candidate for such funding. As a result, TANGO will contribute significantly to Europe’s green transition – which has been in the making with the European Green Deal, and more recently with the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan to save energy, boost renewable energy, and diversify our energy supplies. Last but not least, TANGO will also further boost Europe’s position at the forefront of technological innovation in the sector.
- Publication date
- 11 July 2022
- Directorate-General for Climate Action