Prison Inmates Help Solar Panel Manufacturer to Shift Production to the U.S.


Published Date : Jun 10, 2015

Solar cell and panel maker Suniva Inc., which is one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the U.S. has taken an innovative approach to keep its costs low. The Georgia-based company, which enjoys the backing of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., takes help of the federal inmates to manufacture its products up to some extent. The company partners the U.S. government in its initiative to prepare the inmates for their life after prison. However, most of the company’s production takes place at its in-house factories located in Michigan and Georgia, where more than 350 people are employed. 

Suniva’s arrangement with Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, has made the company localize its entire production in the U.S.  Around 200 inmates at prisons in Oregon, Sheridan, and Otisville, New York are involved in the solar panel production. According to Matt Card, the vice president of global sales and manufacturing, prison labour accounts for less than 10% of its manufacturing and in the last 18 months, the company has shifted its production from Asia to the U.S. entirely. Moving its operation to the U.S. has helped Suniva in terms of getting lucrative federal contracts and avoiding government tariffs on Chinese-made panels. Also, its appeal has increased among the private sector customers who look out for American-made products. 

According to the reports, Suniva generated an annual revenue worth US$93 million in 2014. The company was found by a team of solar scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2007 and has rapidly grown to become the leading solar panel manufacturer in the U.S.