The Fastest Growing Industry

Solar powers up

Bill Opalka | Jun 01, 2011


Solar power may be the fastest growing industry in the country, says one of its leading proponents. The base from which it is growing may be small, but the rate of increased is unmatched in the renewables space.

“Solar is the fastest growing industry in the United States today,” said Rhone Resch, president & CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “Smart policy investment here in Washington combined with innovative business models and higher technology efficiency has allowed the U.S. solar industry to drive down costs year after year.”

He cites that in 2010 alone, the installed cost of solar declined by 20 percent. That has led to the employment of 100,000 workers in the solar industry across all 50 states with that number expected to more than double in the next two years.

“In 2010 the U.S. market more than doubled (to 1,000 megawatts) and we’re expecting another record year, and in a few years the U.S. will be the largest market in the world,” Resch added.

Of course, the federal policy support that has helped sustain the market needs to continue, although the market has developed some momentum through the various states.

On the project development side, SolarReserve has a portfolio of more than 3,000 megawatts in process, including the $737 million federal loan guarantee for the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes molten salt power tower concentrating solar power project in Nevada.

Surety and clarity is what Tom Georgis, senior vice president, development, for SolarReserve said is needed. “Several years ago SolarReserve realized that numerous types of technologies were going to be deployed at utility scale market conditions. We made a strategic decision to diversify and expand our portfolio for utility scale,” he said.

“Absent that certainty, it will be challenging in the near term for the U.S. market,” Georgis said.

Longer term, he said there will be a “tremendous expansion” of opportunity, not just in the American Southwest, but throughout the rest of the U.S. and North America.

A diversification strategy with CSP or photovoltaics is in play at Arizona Public Service, said Pat Dinkel the vice president of resource planning at the utility. APS has contracted with Abengoa for the Solana CSP project at Gila Bend. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a $1.45 billion loan guarantee project.

The utility also has an initiative to invest up to $500 million for 100 megawatts of utility financed PV. “this is part of our diversification strategy, recognizing the difficulty in getting transmission interconnections, so we are locating six plants throughout Arizona from between 15 and 20 megawatts each,” he said.

On the manufacturing side Vice President of Government Affairs for SCHOTT North America, Jim Stein, said the German company saw opportunities in the U.S. and entered in 2007. It has a plant in Albuquerque, N.M.

“We have a manufacturing facility that employs 300 but could scale up to 1,500. It’s a one-of-a-kind kind in that it manufactures PV panels and receivers for CSP,” he said. “We wanted to hedge our bets in the space, by pursuing this diversification.”
With an uncertain policy market in the U.S., the more hedges the better.

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Question about solar PV

We all know that solar PV is expensive technology especially given its poor capacity factor.  In addition to the question presented in a prior comment about the amount of energy consumed to produce PV panels, I have a question about the environmental wisdom of utility scale solar farms on open lands--be it deserts or grasslands.  The color of things is based on which wavelengths of light energy are absorbed and which are reflected.  Since the majority of desert sands are light tan, much of the light is reflected back into the atmosphere as light.  However, solar PV cells are black meaning they absorb virtually all the light energy that impacts them.  But the efficiency of converting the absorbed light energy to electricity is about 20% or so with a theoretical maximum of 29% with present materials.  That means the other 80% of the energy absorbed must be liberated as heat and blackbodies, from what I understand, do this by radiating infrared which is trapped by greenhouse gases.

Does utility scale solar PV actually contribute to global warming?

schott solar, albuquerque, EROEI

Schott solar in abq may consume more electricity producing its panels than the panels will produce.

We tried to find out.  Promised response from Schott never arrived.

See emails at bottom on page.

Perhaps solar panel manufacturers should be removed from the grid and required to produce all the electricity they use in production  from their solar panels?  :-)