Solar cell maker needs workers for new Portland plant

Solar cell maker needs workers for new Portland plant
A flexible solar panel. (Photo courtesy of SoloPower)

PORTLAND, Ore. – SoloPower, a California-based maker of thin solar panels, announced Tuesday they are looking to hire people to work in their new Portland manufacturing facility.

The SoloPower manufacturing plant, a 225,000 square-foot former distribution warehouse located on North Marine Drive, should employ about 90 people by the end of the year, according to CEO Tim Harris. Eventually, the company hopes to employ about 450 people.

Prospective employees can apply for work with the company at the Interstate Career Expo on Wednesday, March 7, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pre-registration for the expo is required.

SoloPower will be “looking for equipment engineers, chemical engineers, production and process engineers and front-end and maintenance technicians,” Thomas Barker, Director of Human Resources, said in a press release. “We’re proud to help Oregon continue on the path towards establishing a broad clean technology manufacturing base and a stronger state economy.”

Harris said the company has already hired about a dozen people who are prepping the facility now for the installation of manufacturing equipment, a process that will be completed in a few more months. He also said a small number of current employees in San Jose will relocate to Portland.

Once an initial production line is operating, a planned expansion, coupled with a Department of Energy loan guarantee, will include a second local manufacturing facility, Harris said. The plan is to have four production lines employing about 450 people two years from now, Harris said.

Harris said the production facilities will be similar to wafer manufacturing plants in the computer chip industry, but without the clean-room environment. He said the SoloPower international customer base includes buyers in Japan, China, South Korea and some European countries.

“We’re excited about SoloPower’s ability to bring clean tech jobs to Oregon and promote smart job-growth in the private sector, which would not have been possible without the visionary support we’ve received from the State of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Energy and the City of Portland, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy,” Harris said. “A big reason SoloPower chose to build our new manufacturing facility in Oregon was because of the highly skilled work force, and we look forward to drawing on that local talent as our facility comes online.”

Harris said the company, which is currently producing solar panels at a facility in San Jose where they are based, did a lot of research about where to locate their next plant, including looking at overseas locations. “At the end, the Portland area was very attractive,” Harris said.

“We were very happy to come up with a good package to locate here in the states” rather than moving production out of the country, Harris added.

Not surprisingly, the Portland plant will eventually feature rooftop solar panels but Harris said right now their focus was on getting the operation up and running and getting their product to customers around the world.

The solar power cells the company plans to make in Portland will have a flexible, lightweight design that requires less electrical system balancing hardware and are easier to install than traditional solar panels, SoloPower said in their press release.

Harris said the unique design of SoloPower’s thin solar cells makes it more attractive to businesses looking to turn otherwise empty rooftops into solar arrays that generate power. He said current solar panel designs are too heavy for large-scale installation on the rooftops of some large buildings.

Harris, who has been with SoloPower for two years as CEO, comes from a tech background and compared the emerging solar power industry to the evolution of another tech mainstay: computer hard drives.

He said that as solar power technology advances, the cost to make solar cells and the price for consumers will continue to drop while performance increases, making solar power an attractive alternative to current legacy power-producing technologies.

He said in some countries, solar power is already becoming a viable alternative to other sources of energy in terms of cost for the consumer.