A Clean Sweep in the Energy Sector
Greenfield construction is an excellent barometer for economic growth. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) uses greenfield projects as an important metric for analyzing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), identifying the position and growth of nations’ U.S. investments as well as the market sectors and regions in which they invest.
As we head into the back stretch of 2023, the wind is certainly blowing toward FDI and domestic investment in clean energy. A tide of greenfield projects for renewables is sweeping from coast to coast, with solar leading the wave. Likewise, developers are going all-in on battery technologies, backed by the full locomotion of the auto industry and its members’ race toward electric vehicle (EV) supremacy.
An Easy Cell for Sustainability
A look at some ongoing Gray projects illustrates this trend. After completing work on the first U.S. solar module assembly facility for Qcells, Gray was selected by the customer to develop two more production facilities in Georgia—one on the original Dalton campus and one in nearby Cartersville. These projects increase the scope of the customer’s operations from module assembly to the complete production of ingots, cells, wafers, and modules—a change indicative of the wider U.S. initiative to onshore the supply chain.
With all solar production processes under one roof, Qcells will streamline its supply chain and more quickly distribute products to end-users. This major greenfield upscale will boost manufacturing capacity from an initial 1.8 gigawatts to a projected 8.4 gigawatts, positioning Qcells as a top player in the emerging domestic solar market. Qcells intends to hire more than 2,500 workers to support the rapid growth of its regional operations.
Other solar companies vying for market share are making similar moves with expansion projects for solar facilities across the U.S.
Blue Comes Up Big
Simultaneously, Gray’s work on BlueOval SK Battery Park (a joint venture between Ford and SK On) in Glendale, KY, showcases the sea change occurring across the automotive industry. When production begins in 2025, the 7 million s.f. complex will manufacture batteries for the newest generation of Ford and Lincoln EVs and create more than 5,000 jobs. But that’s not all for the region; other similar projects are rising up across the country.
A Whole LOTTE Potential
But the clean industry boom isn’t limited to the manufacturers of end-products: suppliers and ancillary businesses are also poised for opportunities. South Korean manufacturer LOTTE supplies cathode foil—an integral component in lithium-ion batteries—to its partners in the EV industry. Following the development of BlueOval SK Battery Park in Glendale, LOTTE selected Gray to build a production facility for LOTTE Aluminium Materials USA in nearby Elizabethtown. At peak capacity, the facility will produce 36,000 tons of the ultra-thin cathode foil per year.
By building the greenfield facility just miles from its primary customer, LOTTE strengthens its industry partnerships, simplifies logistics, and lays the foundation for other EV suppliers to follow suit in setting up operations in the region. Right on cue, Microvast announced plans in March to build a manufacturing facility in Hopkinsville, KY, for polyaramid separator technology—a material with exceptionally high heat-resistance that improves lithium-ion battery designs.
The Bigger Picture
Exemplified across the solar and battery markets, we see a clear willingness from foreign and domestic clean energy businesses to establish or expand U.S. operations. Advantages for these businesses include a rapidly growing customer base, strong local economy and skilled labor pool, and ample government incentives for clean energy projects, all of which have helped to create an attractive and hospitable investment climate. As more multinational corporations and conglomerates establish a presence in U.S. markets, expect them to increasingly leverage their resources and buying power to bring suppliers with them who can consolidate supply chains, minimize logistical concerns, and help them take full advantage of the efficiencies that domestic production affords.