The news of Solyndra's bankruptcy filing and the FBI's raids of the company must be an embarrassment to the Obama administration, as a little more than a year ago the President praised the solar manufacturer, touting its job creation potential and promise for America's clean energy future. The Department of Energy (DOE) remains undaunted, however, and this week announced three new loan guarantees for solar energy companies.
One will go to SolarCity, a Silicon Valley-based installer, owner, and operator of photovoltaic solar panels. As part of what it dubs the SolarStrong Project, SolarCity plans to install rooftop solar devices on 160,000 housing units on 124 military bases across 33 states, amounting to 371 megawatts of generating capacity. If SolarCity achieves this goal, it will double the number of rooftop solar units in use throughout the country, the first example of distributed generation deployed on so large a scale. The idea for SolarStrong came from SolarCity's 2009 installation project at Arizona's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. SolarCity executives stressed that the guarantee is a low risk for the government because SolarCity is putting up its own money for the panels and is reimbursed by its lenders only upon completion of an individual project. A conditional commitment for the loan guarantee was offered on September 7. Read SolarCity's press release here.
A second loan guarantee, finalized September 8, went to 1366 Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company that has developed a manufacturing process to cut in half the price of silicon wafers (used in solar cells). The new technology, termed Direct Wafer, avoids wasting up to 50% of the valuable silicon material and is expected to substantially reduce the market price of solar cells, helping to keep U.S. photovoltaic manufacturing competitive against that of countries such as China. The Direct Wafer process forms the wafer directly from molten silicon as opposed to chopping it off a silicon block. 1366 Technologies plans to use the loan funds to complete its Massachusetts facility and to build a second facility at an as yet undetermined location. Read the company's press release here.
Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC is the recipient of the third DOE loan guarantee, finalized September 9. The loan guarantee will back the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30-megawatt high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) power plant located in south central Colorado. The HCPV technology incorporates a dual-axis tracking system, allowing the solar panels to tilt and follow the sun across the sky to optimize capture of solar power (achieving 40 percent efficiency, double that of traditional panels). Cogentrix has entered into a long-term power purchase agreement to sell power generated by the Project to the Public Service Company of Colorado.