Cylindrical Solar Panel Factory Earns $535M Federal Loan Guarantee
WASHINGTON, DC, September 7, 2009 (ENS) - The Department of Energy has finalized a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, Inc., which manufactures innovative cylindrical solar photovoltaic panels that generate electricity, Vice President Joe Biden announced on Friday.

Solyndra is the first recipient of a loan guarantee under the Recovery Act and Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition, the loan guarantee issued to Solyndra is the first issued by DOE since the 1980s.

Appearing via satellite from Washington DC, Biden spoke to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, company and local officials gathered in Fremont, California for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Solyndra factory.

"This is the first of more than $30 billion in loan guarantees the Recovery Act is providing and will provide to American companies that are leading the way to a new, clean energy future," Biden said.

He said the funding will finance construction of the first phase of the companyís new manufacturing facility. Annual production of solar panels from the first phase is expected to provide energy equivalent to powering 24,000 homes a year or over half a million homes over the projectís lifetime.

"This announcement today is part of the unprecedented investment this administration is making in renewable energy and exactly what the Recovery Act is all about," said Biden. "By investing in the infrastructure and technology of the future, we are not only creating jobs today, but laying the foundation for long-term growth in the 21st century economy."

Installing Solyndra solar panels, no roof penetrations, attachments or ballast are needed as with flat solar panel arrays. (Photo courtesy Solyndra)

Located near its current manufacturing facility in Fremont, Solyndra's Fab 2 is designed to produce solar modules that will generate 500 megawatts of energy per year. The new facility will enable Solyndra to fulfill its announced contractual backlog of over $2 billion in orders, said Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet.

Solyndra estimates the new plant will initially create 3,000 construction jobs, and lead to as many as 1,000 jobs once the facility opens. Hundreds more people will install Solyndraís solar panels on rooftops around the country.

The project will introduce into large-scale commercial operation a new innovative process for manufacturing a breakthrough design for photovoltaic panels that will be used in the fast-growing market for solar installations on large, flat rooftops.

Solyndra's panels employ cylindrical modules that capture sunlight across a 360-degree photovoltaic surface capable of converting direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight into electricity. Solyndra's panels perform optimally when mounted horizontally and packed closely together, covering more of the roof area and producing more electricity per rooftop on an annual basis than a conventional panel installation.

"It is time to rev up the American innovation machine and reclaim our lead on clean energy," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "This investment is part of a broad, aggressive effort to spark a new industrial revolution that will put Americans to work, end our dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution."

"Building a smarter solar panel is exactly what Solyndra has done. Compared to traditional solar panels, Solyndra's innovative thin film systems produce more energy for less money and less hassle," said Chu.

"To prove the world is clamoring for a clean energy economy is the $2 billion worth of pending solar orders," he said. "Because of this loan guarantee, those orders will be filled by American workers."

Over its lifetime, the first phase of the facility could manufacture up to seven gigawatts of solar panels, which can generate electricity equivalent to three or four coal-fired power plants. This plant will produce about as many new solar panels as the United States produced in 2005.

"Our plan is to cover the 15 billion square meters of flat rooftops in the world with our unique cylindrical modules. This will generate 1000 gigawatts, or enough power for one-third of all U.S. commercial buildings," Gronet said.

From left, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet are among those breaking ground for the new factory. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

"The Solyndra story started in 2005," he recounted. "The first cylindrical prototypes were made at the National Renewable Energy Labs in Colorado. But it was right here in Silicon Valley that we were able to accelerate our product development. Because of the incredible drive and passion and talent of our employees, we were able to take the original cylindrical modules and transform them into competitive rooftop power plants."

The $535 million loan from the U.S. Treasury, combined with $198 million from an equity financing round led by Argonaut Private Equity, provide the capital required for the new factory.

"One of the key values at Solyndra," said Gronet, "is that what we do is more than just a job. We are agents of change. 20 years from now, we will not be among those who stand in front of their families, friends, children and grandchildren and say we did little to stop the advance of global warming. We will make a difference one solar cell at a time, one tube at a time, one module at a time, one panel at a time, one megawatt installation at a time, one gigawatt factory at a time."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the new factory is just what Fremont needs after getting the news in June that General Motors is pulling out of New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., NUMMI, its joint manufacturing plant with Toyota. Toyota has indicated it plans to leave by March 2010.

"This takes me to the subject of Assembly Bill 1111," said the governor of the tax incentive legislation he is sponsoring. "A bipartisan bill, AB 1111 will provide a tax incentive for new, clean technology manufacturers that locate here in California. And it will help us attract new green companies into the NUMMI plant. We want to bring companies in and to go to the NUMMI plant and to have those workers not lose their jobs but continue working, just instead of building cars, build something that has to do with green technology. And this is why we give those tax incentives," said Schwarzenegger. "In fact, Solyndra will be eligible for the tax incentive for this new facility right here."

Secretary Chu said, "The first jobs created will be those construction jobs, up to 3,000 of them. And, in fact, Solyndra says it's poised to hire up to a hundred people within an hour of getting the check."

"Next will be high tech manufacturing jobs. I think they're already hired up to a thousand positions once the plant is operated. And then there will be installation jobs. Hundreds of men and women will be climbing on to roofs across the country. Finally, there will be maintenance and upkeep jobs that will keep the panels running smoothly. And here is the best part, none of these jobs can be outsourced," Chu said.

"The numbers tell us the story," said Gronet. "We will create 3,000 construction jobs, 1,000 operations jobs and hundreds of installation jobs. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate Labor Day."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.