In the Solar Valley, an industrial area in Saxony-Anhalt with a cluster of photovoltaic companies, international investors have put more than €9bn of capital to work since 1991. 

In May 2021, Switzerland-based engineering firm Meyer Burger opened a new factory to produce solar cells in the area. Gunter Erfurt, the CEO of Meyer Burger, tells fDi what attracted the company to invest in Saxony-Anhalt and his outlook for Europe’s solar cell sector.

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Q: What made the town of Thalheim in Bitterfeld-Wolfen the right location to open a new solar cell plant?

A: The Solar Valley, and thus also Thalheim, is the cradle of the solar industry. At this historic site in Saxony-Anhalt, Meyer Burger is setting a milestone on Europe’s path to greater strategic independence in the key technology of photovoltaics. It offers a unique opportunity to become an innovative global pacesetter in the field of renewable energies, to create high-quality jobs in the region, and to supply attractive products for the generation of climate-friendly and competitive electrical energy. 

The solar cells produced in Thalheim are destined for Meyer Burger’s own solar module production in Freiberg, Saxony. A nominal production capacity of up to 200,000 heterojunction cells per day was built up so far. 

With this first phase of 400MW, Meyer Burger has already created more than 200 high-quality jobs in Thalheim alone. By the end of 2022, the Solar Valley site is to be expanded to a solar cell capacity of 1.4GW. In the long run, our plans may create up to 3500 jobs in total.

Q: How has Meyer Burger been supported in the investment process?

A: The fact that the solar industry in Saxony-Anhalt is picking up new momentum is no coincidence. For years, the state has actively ensured that business and science are closely interlinked, and that targeted investments are made in future technologies. 

For example, the Fraunhofer Institute confirmed at the beginning of this year that solar cell production in Thalheim has significant advantages for the environment, compared to conventional manufacturing. This, in turn, was rewarded by the state of Saxony-Anhalt with a commitment for an environmental protection grant of up to €15m and an investment subsidy of up to €7.5m. We are grateful for this financial support, which encourages us in our plans. 

Q: What is the local talent pool and research expertise like in Saxony-Anhalt?

A: Solar valley, with its long-standing tradition in the field of photovoltaics, is the perfect place for a new start. Here we have everything we need: a solid infrastructure, industry-specific research facilities and highly qualified and motivated personnel. The availability of skilled workers and the opportunity to drive forward technological research and development in co-operation with scientific institutions is what makes the location in Saxony-Anhalt so attractive.

Q: What do you see as the greatest opportunity for European solar energy manufacturers?

A: We are experiencing a renaissance of the solar industry in Europe. For us, there is no reason to go to Asia, as we have optimal conditions for industrial production here in Europe. Future developments will show that it makes sense to manufacture solar modules where the market is, instead of expensively shipping them halfway around the world.

In large parts of the world, photovoltaics is already by far the most cost-effective and climate-friendly technology for generating electricity. Meyer Burger sees this development as the beginning of a solar energy era with a bright future.

In association with the Investment and Marketing Corporation Saxony-Anhalt. Writing and editing were carried out independently by fDi Intelligence.

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.