Electric utilities seen as prime PV market

by Bob Haavind, editor-at-large, Photovoltaics World

Expected strong demand by electric utilities for solar panels triggered a request by AVA Solar, Loveland, CO, for a loan guarantee from the federal government’s Advanced Energy Loan program that would allow the company to triple manufacturing capacity. The company is just completing an automated factory to produce cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film on glass panels for electric utilities, according to Mark Chen, director of marketing.

By the end of 2Q09, AVA expects to be able to turn out about 1 million 2 ft. × 4 ft. laser-etched panels a year, feeding a new panel onto a highly automated line about every two minutes, according to Chen. If the loan request is approved, the company hopes to put additional production lines into a nearby factory, tripling capacity and expanding from 175 to 500 employees.

(Source: AVA Solar)

Electric utilities already have installed a gigawatt of solar capacity, according to Chen, but 90% of the other PV manufacturers do not yet have a commercial product for this market. Although he declined to give efficiency figures for AVA Solar’s panels, he said the mass production methods will drive costs below $1/Watt, making solar cost-competitive to fossil-fuel power plants. Furthermore, he pointed out, solar can provide maximum output at mid-day when electricity demand is highest. Chen sees prime markets in areas such as Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Hawaii, as well as Spain and Italy in Europe.

US legislation is going to give a boost to this market, he believes, not just with the stimulus bill but with other legislation as well. The push for a smart grid for electric utilities is aimed at lowering CO2 emissions, and solar will contribute to that goal. Also, he said, the investment tax credit is being changed to an outright grant to help companies working on advanced technology. During a recent visit to the new AVA Solar plant, Senator Mark Udall said that the Department of Energy is setting up loan guarantee programs to help commercialize renewable energy sources including solar modules. According to Chen, this program will provide $6 billion in funds that will help guarantee net loans up to $60 billion for the potential customers for AVA’s panels.

AVA Solar was founded in 2007 to commercialize an advanced process for manufacturing thin-film photovoltaic modules based on 15 years of development at Colorado State U.’s Materials Engineering Laboratory. — B.H.


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