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Enel sees efficient home-built solar panels helping compete with China

FILE PHOTO: A prototype of a bifacial photovoltaic module is seen inside Italian utility Enel's solar panel gigafactory in Catania

CERNOBBIO, Italy (Reuters) - Italy's Enel expects the solar panels to be produced at a gigafactory it is building in Sicily will be significantly more efficient than current models, helping compete with lower-cost output from China, a senior company executive said on Saturday.

The comments at the Cernobbio 2023 conference by Nicola Lanzetta, head of Italy at Enel, came as an Enel-backed study said Italy and the EU as a whole still have a chance to significantly reduce their dependence on key components from China for the energy transition.

Lanzetta said solar panels to be made at the group's plant in Sicily will reach a rate of efficiency of 30% in 2025 compared with an average rate of sunlight conversion into energy of around 20% for current technology.

With project financing from UniCredit announced in February, Enel has invested around 600 million euros ($646.4 million) to boost the capacity of its plant to 3 gigawatts (GW) by July 2024, from around 200 megawatts (MW) per year at present, turning it into Europe's largest producer of high-performance "bifacial" solar panels, or those which produce power from both surfaces.

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Lanzetta was presenting the findings of the study by think-tank The European House - Ambrosetti and the Enel Foundation, the company's own energy and climate-focused research entity, which noted a current average reliance on China to supply some 65% of the components used in green technology in Europe.

The issue of reliance on China has come to the fore amid geopolitical tensions and supply disruptions due to the pandemic.

The study said Italy and the EU could increase their domestic production to meet more than 50% of the demand for photovoltaic panels, about 90% of the demand for batteries, and more than 60% of the demand for heat pumps by 2030.

To reach these targets, European companies need to bet on innovative technologies while making effective use of the funds made available by governments and European institutions and increase recycling capacity, according to the study.

"The decarbonisation process is a unique opportunity to support important industrial sectors of our economy and reduce our dependence on foreign countries," Lanzetta said, noting this was "a realistic goal provided that the entire value chain is innovated, in a sustainable sense."

The executive also said Enel was on track to reach a 1,700 megawatt (MW) battery capacity by the end of next year.

($1 = 0.9282 euros)

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by David Holmes)