Gwinnett County’s Suniva makes bet on solar surge

September 16, 2015 Norcorss, GA: Nishan Kharga performs a quality control inspection of solar cells before they are shipped out for assembly in solar panels.  The Sunivia solar cell manufacturing plant in Norcross runs 24/7 with plans to expand.  The largely automated process requires only 22 worker per shift to operate.   BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

September 16, 2015 Norcorss, GA: Nishan Kharga performs a quality control inspection of solar cells before they are shipped out for assembly in solar panels. The Sunivia solar cell manufacturing plant in Norcross runs 24/7 with plans to expand. The largely automated process requires only 22 worker per shift to operate. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

The solar surge in the U.S. has come about in large part thanks to incentives designed to make turning the sun’s rays into electricity more competitive with fossil fuels.

Norcross-based Suniva announced an expansion earlier this year – including 500 jobs in Gwinnett County – based on the bet that the surge is no fluke.

The nation’s recent embrace of solar — driven by companies hoping for greener bona fides and utilities like Georgia Power looking to comply with federal environmental mandates — is central to Suniva’s expansion plans. As is fresh investment from a Chinese clean energy group.

The Obama Administration’s plan to promote renewable energy sources is expected to keep fueling solar’s growth, but the industry also faces some significant hurdles. Two key tax credits are scheduled to be curtailed at the end of 2016.

Still, says Bob Gibson, vice president of knowledge with the Solar Electric Power Association, solar isn’t going away.

“Solar is becoming ingrained into the electricity marketplace,” he said. “From an exotic niche product, it’s moving into the mainstream.”

On our premium website, MyAJC.com, the newspaper looks at Suniva’s planned growth and the potential hurdles companies like Suniva must still overcome.

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