At the end of 2021 it emerged that one of Europe's big solar panel producers, Germany's AE Solar, was going to build a plant in Bulgaria. A year later however it turns out that this country has lost the competition for the project to a neighbor, North Macedonia. It is there that AE Solar Horizon, a company registered in Sofia as a German-Bulgarian partnership, will set up the production facility. The country was preferred for the incentives offered by Skopje, as well as the faster administrative procedures. The company will invest 50 million euro in the plant, which will manufacture 1.5 GWp of panels a year.
The good news is that Bulgaria is still in the plans - for a second factory. AE Solar Horizon is also considering a third facility, in Greece.
On the Bulgarian side, the project is run by Ilko Yotsev, manager and owner of several companies for water saving and energy efficiency solutions. He says he has been working for years with a professor from North Macedonia, Ilia Nasov, on the development of various solar panel technologies. The latest such project is a photovoltaic thermal (PVT) hybrid system that generates electricity and heat and is highly efficient. It is for the production of such panels that they have attracted AE Solar as a technology partner.
The German company is on Bloomberg' tier 1 list and has production facilities in China, Georgia and Turkey. It sells 1.5 GW of panels a year, which speaks of a turnover exceeding 300 million euro.
Following tests at the Swiss SPF Institute, the Bulgarian-Macedonian technology has been recognized and has become part of AE Solar's lines under the name of Neptune. Currently there is a small PVT production facility in North Macedonia, which will be expanded to meet growing demand. The plant will be located in an industrial zone near Tetovo. The project will be developed as a build-to-rent service by the zone's operator. Production is expected to start in September 2023.
The investment will be made by AE Solar Horizon, in which AE Solar holds a stake of close to 60%. That will be done through a subsidiary in North Macedonia, AE Solar Tetovo, and a company of Ilia Nasov will be a technological partner.
AE Solar Horizon was registered in March 2022 by Ilko Yotsev and his Bulgarian business partner Evgeni Stefanov, who invested 60,000 levs (30,000 euro) as individuals. Through a capital raise of 3.5 million euro in October new partners joined in: Germany's AE Solar, Bulgarian engineering company Elia and New Vision 3, a fund investing in innovative business models and technologies. In Yotsev's words, the capital is projected to reach 9.6 million euro, as the production licenses will be capitalized. That will allow the company to receive bank financing for the project. It is also mulling an IPO on an international exchange once the first factory is put into operation.
The funds will be used to finance the next stages of the project, including the construction of a second plant - in Bulgaria. The company hopes to have a land plot purchased by April 2023 but the exact location has not been chosen yet.
The initial idea to build the factory near the city of Haskovo, in southern Bulgaria, has been abandoned for logistic reasons. The company has received an attractive offer from the authorities in the city of Burgas, on the Black Sea coast, but if it chooses that location, it may fail to obtain from the government a preferred investor certificate and the incentives it provides, as there are legislative restrictions.
The size of the investment in Bulgaria will also be about 50 million euro for a plant with a capacity of 1 GWp of panels a year. Yotsev however cannot say when the project will be completed. "The construction itself takes about a year. What we cannot predict is how long the administrative procedures will take."
The company expects to hire some 200 people in North Macedonia and Bulgaria each. Production will be highly automated and most of the staff will be employed in the R&D center. Therefore, the proximity of a university is a must.