Written by R.E. Lord

Goodyear Suntech SolarIt’s fitting that the world’s largest producer of solar panels opened its first U.S manufacturing plant in a region known for generations as the “Valley of the Sun.”

Suntech Power Holdings Co. flipped the switch this month at its new plant in Goodyear, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, where the sun shines hard and bright about 350 days out of the average year.

According to Suntech, a global leader in the production of silicon solar modules founded in 2001 by solar scientist Dr. Zhengrong Shi, the 117,000-square-foot Goodyear plant will initially produce Suntech's 280W Vd-series modules, which are used for commercial and utility-scale electricity generation.

The plant will expand alongside the U.S. solar energy industry, and Suntech will partner with Arizona State University in Tempe to help make that happen, the company says. The facility has an initial 30MW of annual capacity and will hire 75 employees by December. Suntech hopes to expand to 50MW by early 2011, with a goal of reaching a 120MW annual production capacity. Job growth is expected to attend the ramp-up, according to Shi.

"Solar jobs follow solar installations, and more than 60 percent of all industry jobs are created in sales, finance, and installation, in jobs that cannot be exported. On average, the solar industry employs about 15 to 30 people for every MW of installed solar capacity -- 6 to 8 times more than the traditional energy industry," Shi said in a statement. "The governments that advance clear and consistent policies to diversify with clean energy will create thousands of green jobs while achieving energy security."

Shi, who is Suntech’s CEO as well as its founder, added that the Goodyear facility is three times larger than the company’s first production facility, built 2002, and that the costs of generating solar energy have fallen since then by more than 50 percent.

"Just imagine what we will accomplish over the next eight years as we work together and continue to drive solar to cost competitiveness in the United States, and everywhere under the sun," he said.