San Diego Business Journal

Soitec Picks Rancho Bernardo Site for Solar Factory

Friday, December 16, 2011

Soitec Solar Inc. has found a home for its San Diego solar-panel factory.

The company announced Dec. 15 that it will purchase a 176,000-square-foot industrial building on nearly 15 acres of a Rancho Bernardo business park, where it has the space it needs to potentially double its production capacity.

“With this location, we felt that we could attract the high-tech workforce we need for our manufacturing,” said Clark Crawford, vice president of business development and sales for Soitec Solar, the San Diego-based unit of the French semiconductor company Soitec SA.

Soitec is buying the building from Sony Electronics Inc., which is headquartered in the same Rancho Bernardo campus. Other neighboring companies include Nokia and Broadcom Corp.

The company said it expects to spend $150 million — a sum that includes the yet-undisclosed purchase price — to overhaul the building’s interior and outfit it with the equipment needed to make its proprietary “concentric photovoltaic” modules that will produce clean energy for clients such as San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

The factory will employ 450 people at full capacity, mainly computer engineers and technicians who will guide a highly automated manufacturing process, Crawford said.

But the hiring won’t happen right away; Soitec, which has an existing administrative staff of 18 based in a La Jolla office building, will hire a ramp-up manufacturing staff of 45 by April and plans to have a group of 80 by July, Crawford said.

Soitec has worked closely with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and the nonprofit trade group CleanTech San Diego to find a suitable factory location within city limits. “Soitec’s new facility will create hundreds of well-paying jobs and build on San Diego’s growing reputation as one of the world’s leading clean-technology clusters,” Sanders said in a statement.

— Kelly Quigley