U.S. solar company GAF Energy moving production back home from Asia

May 11 (Reuters) - A small U.S. solar company, GAF Energy, said on Tuesday it would move its manufacturing out of Asia to a new facility in Silicon Valley as it seeks to develop a next-generation technology to integrate solar panels with roof shingles.

The company's move represents the reverse of the years-long trend in the solar industry of moving production to Asia to capitalize on lower-cost labor. The rise of cheap, foreign-made panels over the past decade has enabled solar energy to become cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the United States.

The components for GAF Energy's building-integrated solar products are currently produced in South Korea and the United States, but manufacturing will be shifted to the new San Jose, California, factory beginning later this year, according to Martin DeBono, president of the company, which is a unit of private conglomerate Standard Industries.

"I know we're outliers today in making this decision," DeBono said, citing the strong support from GAF Energy's parent company, which has pledged to spend $1 billion on building technologies including solar.

The facility will employ about 400 people in manufacturing, engineering and research and development and be capable of producing about 50 megawatts of solar panels a year. That is far smaller than the solar factories in places like China and Malaysia that produce in the hundreds of megawatts.

GAF Energy expects to benefit from reduced risks associated with offshore production, including tariffs on Asian-made solar goods and rising transportation costs. Siting production near its research and development engineers will also help the company develop a cutting-edge product that will replace its current offering, DeBono said.

GAF Energy, which launched in 2019, competes with Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) in the market for solar panels that integrate with roofs. It has installed its product on more than 2,000 U.S. rooftops so far, according to DeBono.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Peter Cooney

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