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March 23rd, 2009

Solyndra snags big solar loan guarantee offer

Published on March 23rd, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

The DOE promised to act fast in distributing its stimulus monies and it is. It’s been announced that one of the first offers is going to Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif., company with a maverick technology I profiled back in October. A $535 million guarantee will allow the company to obtain lower-than-market financing to expand its production of photovoltaic “panels” by opening a second production plant in California. “Fab 2,” as the new plant is called, is expected to have an annual manufacturing capacity of 500 megawatts per year.

As for the economic stimulus part of the deal, Solyndra says in a press release that, “[C]onstruction of this complex will employ approximately 3,000 people, the operation of the facility will create over 1,000 jobs, and hundreds of additional jobs will be created for the installation of Solyndra PV systems, in the U.S.” Actually, Solyndra’s units are markedly different than other PV units, with a tubular shape that allows each cylinder to collect sunlight from any angle. A coating within the tubes contains the light-sensitive material. By painting a surrounding roof white, the cylinders are capable of capturing reflected sunlight from their “down” side. The tubes also are more tolerant than PV panels when it comes to installation arrangements. Flat panels must be precisely angled with devices that add cost and time, and they must be anchored by ballast or “rooftop penetration” to meet wind-loading requirements. In contrast, Solyndra’s solar tubes can be laid beside each other in straight lines across a roof with minimal rooftop anchoring.

The company says installation costs can be cut in half. Solyndra tubes are made from a less expensive thin-film of semiconductor material. This material – comprised of copper, indium, gallium and selenium – is deposited on a glass tube, which is nested inside another glass tube. The outer tube concentrates sunlight and protects the solar film on the inside tube. See this post for a video of Solyndra’s manufacturing techniques. Under the previous administration, the loan guarantee program got stuck in a horrendous bureaucracy that was so FUBARed that proposals had been sitting for years. New DOE Secretary Chu promised to cut the application approval process to months and cut the application, itself, to less than 50 pages. Chu deserves a nod to sticking to his promise, and so does the DOE for taking a risk with a firm leveraging nontraditional but proven PV technology (and I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with providing loan guarantees to traditional PV panel makers, either).


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