North American Governments and Industry Continue to "Shine" Spotlight on Solar Solutions

March 15, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

Several recent stories highlight the growing realization among corporations and policymakers in the United States and Canada that the development of photovoltaic (PV) energy is essential for energy policy. Whether the solar "enlightenment" is dawning as a result of the economic analysis of the rising costs of other energy sources, or due to concerns over environmental issues such as pollution and global warming, the solar solution is increasingly being taken more seriously.

Government cooperation with businesses engaged in solar R&D and production was highlighted by the announcement of the Department of Energy (DOE) that it had selected several solar energy projects to receive up to $168 million in federal funds. As part of the cost-shared agreements, the industry-led teams will contribute more than 50% of the funding for these projects for a total value of up to $357 million over three years. These cooperative agreements, to be negotiated, will be the first made available as part of President Bush’s Solar America Initiative (SAI), a component of his Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI), announced in his 2006 State of the Union Address. In addition, the projects will enable the projected expansion of the annual U.S. manufacturing capacity of PV systems from 240 MW in 2005 to as much as 2,850 MW by 2010, representing more than a ten-fold increase. Such capacity would also put the U.S. industry on track to reduce the cost of electricity produced by PV from current levels of $0.18-$0.23 per kWh to $0.05 - $0.10 per kWh by 2015 – a price that is competitive in markets nationwide.

Among the teams selected for negotiations under the SAI were: Amonix for a low-cost, high-concentration PV system for utility markets; Boeing for a high-efficiency concentrating photovoltaic power system; BP Solar for a low-cost approach to grid parity using crystalline silicon; Dow Chemical for PV-integrated residential and commercial building solutions; General Electric for a value chain partnership to accelerate U.S. PV growth; Greenray for development of an ac module system; Konarka for building-integrated organic photovoltaics; Miasole for low-cost, scalable, flexible PV systems with integrated electronics; Nanosolar for low-cost, scaleable PV systems for commercial rooftops; Powerlight for a PV cell-independent effort to improve automated manufacturing systems; SunPower for grid-competitive residential solar power generating systems; and United Solar Ovonic for a low-cost thin-film building-integrated PV systems.

Also included were smaller companies such as Soliant Energy, formerly Practical Instruments, of Pasadena, California, who received $4 million in funding for its Heliotube technology. Heliotube provides solar concentrator technology in the same flat panel form traditionally used by solar installers. Heliotube, expected to be released in October, is claimed to be less expensive than conventional solar panels while producing more watts. A bright ribbon of light is focused on a smaller solar panel, generating as much power as a solar cell 10 times as large.

In other developments on the American solar scene, Applied Materials Inc., announced that it will install more than 1.9 megawatts of solar power generation capability at its research campus in Sunnyvale, California. The company believes this will be the largest solar power installation on an existing corporate facility in the U.S. The project will be rolled out in three phases. Once completed in 2008, Applied expects its system will generate more than 2,330 megawatt hours annually – the equivalent of powering 1,400 homes.

SolarWorld Group of Germany announced that it is building an integrated solar silicon wafer and solar cell production facility which it claims will be the largest in the United States when completed in 2009. The 500 MW factory is being built in Hillsboro, Oregon, at a cost of €30 million following a recent investment of €600 million by the Komatsu Group of Japan. SolarWorld will receive funding from the State of Oregon from a state-sponsored global warming program.

There were also developments in Canada on the solar energy front. The Canadian government announced that it will provide funding of $40,000 over two years for a pilot project to incorporate renewable energy in new homes. Over the next 18 months, Doug Tarry Homes Ltd., a home builder in St. Thomas, Ontario, will build about 100 "Solar Ready" homes. These homes will have the rough-in for solar hot-water panels done during construction. Home buyers can choose to have the panels installed immediately or wait and install them at a later date at a reduced retrofit cost because the homes were built to be ready for solar energy. The government is hoping to use the Solar Ready program as an example to promote future solar energy development.

Carmanah Technologies announced that it has been awarded a contract for CAN$1.4 million from Public Works & Government Services Canada for 108 kW of solar panels to be installed on the roof of the Jean Canfield Building in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The grid-tie solar system will be connected to both the conventional electricity grid and an array of 500 Sanyo solar modules. The company claims that it will be the largest solar-based energy system in Canada.