Against all odds
A solar energy company located at the northern edge of Europe probably sounds like a contradiciton in terms to some, but REC's founder Alf Bjørseth saw that hydro power in abundance and a long tradition and competence within the metal industry field would support his business case. It started in 1994 with the idea that solar cells made from multicrystalline wafers would become the leading technology in an industry which was about to accelerate.
New technology replaces old industry
About the same time, a local ammoniac production facility in Glomfjord in northern Norway shut down, and Reidar Langmo went into partnership with Bjørseth to start the production of solar wafers at this site. The first wafer was produced in the summer of 1997, and the founders were in the plant washing the first wafers by hand.
The solar market connects to the grid
In the beginning of the solar history the main market was off-grid, where PV could compete well with little or no subsidies.
SolEnergy was therefore started by Erik Sauar, Jan-Olaf Willums and Alf Bjørseth in 1998 and shortly thereafter won a concession to install 50 000 Solar Home Systems in South Africa. The company also built a small module manufacturing plant in Namibia. However, in 2000 the new South African government ran into internal conflicts while at the same time Japan and Germany launched major support programs for grid-connected solar energy. From then on, the main market became grid-connected systems and REC rapidly moved its efforts in the same direction. The Namibian experiences in module manufacturing were taken further in ScanModule AB.
In 2000, the company, then called ScanWafer, signed large contracts with Mitsubishi Electric and Shell Solar, and all of a sudden wafer demand exceeded supply.
The first expansion was due, and in 2001 the second plant in Glomfjord opened. ScanWafer was now the world's largest multicrystalline wafer producer.
The supply of the raw material - solar grade silicon - was plentiful and when the company invested in a the silicon production plant in Moses Lake in Washington,USA in 2002, many were surprised.
The third wafer plant factory opened in Herøya in 2003, and about this time the raw materials supply situation started to change, and while the rest of the industry screamed for solar grade silicon, REC's operation was secure. Simultaneously, the war in Iraq led to increaseing oil prices. The future looked bright, and REC had by then also opened a solar cell production facility in Narvik, Norway and a solar module production plant in Glava, Sweden.
The founder, Alf Bjørseth, pulled out in 2005, and left the control to Erik Thorsen. In May 2006, REC was listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange priced at NOK 55 billion. During Thorsen's reign the company expanded heavily, and was soon the world's largest integrated solar energy company.
Profitable growth and cost reduction instigated further expansion and REC began exploring the possibilities of building a world-scale, integrated solar energy complex. After evaluating about 200 possible locations, REC decided on Singapore, and in June 2008 REC committed to investing NOK 13 billion (close to SGD 3 359 milion) building the Singapore wafer, cell and module plants in Tuas View.
Developing an industrial culture
Having expanded aggressively for a few years, the time had come to further develop a strong industrial culture, and Ole Enger came in as new President and CEO in April 2009.The major shift in the global eceonomy also affected REC in 2009, and the results were influenced by a tough market. On the bright side, REC started polysilicon production with its new proprietary fluidized bed technology (FBR).
2010 was the year for Grand Openings in REC, as the official opening of the expansions in REC Silicon took place on October 11, and the official opening of the integrated plant in Tuas, Singapore, took place on November 3. These events marked the transition from a period of heavy expansion to a more stable operation. At year-end, the solar panel production facility in Glava, Sweden was closed down.