Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Solar Grows Even in Sluggish Ecomony

In this rather unusual economic year there’s still business going on in what had been one of the fasting growing industries on the planet: solar energy.

Companies are still embracing solar because they think it’s the right thing to do:

Communications, media and automotive services company, Cox Enterprises, has completed a 100 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) solar system at Cox's Manheim DRIVE facility in Stockbridge, Georgia.

The Manheim DRIVE Center is the first-of-its-kind innovation center in the vehicle remarketing industry. The Center hosts conferences, symposiums, roundtables and management retreats, as well as live auctions that are held in the 180-seat bidding theater. Since its opening in 2004, more than 20,000 guests from around the world have visited DRIVE.

Power from the system will be fed into the Georgia Power grid and is the largest solar array wired into the utility company’s power lines.

Cox also has photovoltaic power systems and solar thermal energy systems in facilities such as auction houses and automotive detailing shops in Bordentown, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona and Rancho Santa Margarita, California.

The company has an environmental initiative it calls Cox Conserves. In the internally developed program, Cox Enterprises seeks to embrace renewable forms of energy, conserve resources and reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2017.

There’s still money from banks for solar energy:

When completed by the end of 2009, the 53 megawatt (MW) DC photovoltaic (PV) power plant near the German city of Cottbus will be the largest in Germany and the second largest in the world.

Being built on 400 acres of land, the plant will consist of approximately 700,000 modules and provide power in daylight hours for up to 14,000 Germany homes.

And, the project has received bank funding at a time when banks seem stingy in lending. The developers, First Solar and Juwi Holding have secured more than 80 percent of the required project capital through non-recourse debt from a consortium of banks. Non-recourse debt are loans secured by a pledge of collateral, typically real property.

Construction of the project on a remediated site once used by the Soviet Army began in January 2009, and the first 15 MW have been completed. The remaining 38 MW are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009.

Retailers who have the cash are still willing to spend it on solar power:

In these slow, but perking up, economic times no nonsense retailer Wal-Mart is holding up relatively well. The company is doing so well that it is continuing its store-solarizing program in California. The company has selected BP Solar to provide photovoltaic solar power systems for 10 - 20 systems built on Wal-Mart store rooftops.

Under a power purchase agreement (PPA) negotiated for the projects, BP will finance, install and maintain the systems and Wal-Mart will have immediate access to clean electricity with no up front capital cost to the retailer.

The new agreement works on an established relationship between the major retailer and BP Solar. In 2008, BP Solar completed construction on 4.1 megawatts of solar energy systems for seven Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs in California.

The Sun still shines on urban areas:

The Sun is not picky. It isn’t selective. It points its rays in all directions and lets them strike where they may, including urban Chicago, Illinois.

Electric utility Exelon and solar power manufacturer SunPower Corporation have announced that they will jointly develop the nation’s largest urban solar power plant, if the project gets a federal loan guarantee under the recently passed federal stimulus legislation formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

For the project Exelon will lease 39 acres of the West Pullman Industrial Redevelopment Area on the South Side of the Windy City. The $60 million, 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) facility is scheduled for completion by the end of this year. The companies believe the loan guarantee will be approved.

The Sunshine State is still getting sunnier.

The FPL Group, the parent company of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) and NextEra Energy Resources (once FPL Energy), has signed a supply agreement with SunPower Corporation for SunPower’s solar panels and its tracking technology that keeps panels aimed at the Sun.

That announcement seems minor compared with the potential of the accompanying announcement from FPL and SunPower. That announcement reads, “SunPower will also locate a research and development center employing up to 50 employees in Florida IF the state government continues to support the deployment of additional solar energy. SunPower will work with FPL and the state to identify a suitable location for such a facility. Continued strong demand in Florida also could lead to manufacturing and distribution centers for solar panels and tracking systems being located in the state as well.” (I put the “IF” in caps.)

Florida, best known for its big blue sky, hot beaches, hurricanes and alligators, has been lacking in its obvious solar potential until recent years. Maybe this is the bigger push that it needs.

FPL and SunPower are developing two solar electric plants in the state, the 25 MW DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center and the 10 MW Space Coast Next Generation Solar Energy Center. FPL is also building the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. It will generate 75 megawatts of solar thermal power capacity.

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