Paul Morden, from www.theobserver.ca The Observer
The start of construction on a $11-million pilot plant in Sarnia is taking longer than expected, but the CEO of Ubiquity Solar says it’s getting closer.
The company has been assembling financing and making plans to establish a pilot plant at Sarnia’s TransAlta Bluewater energy Park to make high-performance polysilicon bricks and wafers for use in photovoltaic cells for the solar energy industry.
“We’re still working very hard to get this thing going,” said Ian MacLellan.
“The financing has taken a little bit longer to come together than we had expected, more due just to the complexity of all the moving pieces.”
Last June, the company received $3.1 million from the federal government for the pilot project.
“We now have 97% of the resources committed,” MacLellan said.
“It is coming together, but there is some complexity we’ve had to deal with.”
Ubiquity Solar has said that it wants to quickly scale up to commercial production and have a 10,000-tonne-per-year production plant operating within a few years. The company has also said it plans to create more than 500 “export-focused” jobs at the plant, within five years.
“We’re pushing as hard as we can, and we’d like to get this going in the next couple of months,” MacLellan said.
The company has been seeing increased interest for the polysilicon it plans to make in Sarnia, and recently signed a memorandum of understanding with a customer, he said.
“What we had anticipated in the marketplace is starting to show itself, so that’s encouraging.”
Since it began talking about the proposal for Sarnia, the company has simplified part of its plans for the site, MacLellan said.
“We actually anticipate still getting into some form of commercial production in 2016,” he said.
“Although it has taken us longer to get the pilot plant launched, we are still looking at ways to get into production quicker.”
When he spoke about the pilot plant during an event the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership held in November 2013, MacLellan said the company was attracted to Sarnia’s chemical industry infrastructure, as well as the unique features of the energy park.
TransAlta purchased the former Dow Chemical lands in Sarnia to create the industrial park to attract customers for the electricity and steam it generates.
MacLellan has a background in venture capital and technology companies, and was the founder of Cambridge-based Arise Technologies that installed rooftop solar systems and built a plant in Germany to manufacture solar panels.
The plant opened as the world was falling into recession and Arise later went out of business, but there have been positive signs for the solar industry in the years since.
“We saw another record broken in 2014, worldwide,” MacLellan said.
While the final numbers aren’t out yet, it appears approximately 45 gigawatts of solar energy was installed last year, up from approximately 37 gigawatts in 2013, he said.
“We’re seeing good, solid growth.”
MacLellan said the U.S. market for solar has also been growing.
In 2014, “there was more new solar installed in the U.S. in the second quarter than in all other forms of electrical generation combined,” he said.
“And, that’s where we expect a lot of our product will go.”
Canada’s low dollar has also given the project “an unexpected boost,” he said.
MacLellan said the company has an experienced team, and its efforts have been supported by all levels of government, as well as officials in Sarnia.
“We’re really been quite pleased with that,” he said.