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Volume 87 Issue 13 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 30, 2009

Solar Firm Wins Big U.S. Loan

Financing plan has been years in the making
Department: Business, Government & Policy, Science & Technology | Collection: Climate Change, Green Chemistry, Sustainability
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
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Solyndra's solar tubes cast striking shadows on an industrial roof top.
Credit: Solyndra
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Solyndra's solar tubes cast striking shadows on an industrial roof top.
Credit: Solyndra

SOLYNDRA, a developer of thin-film solar cells, will be the first company to benefit from a long-delayed federal program providing loan guarantees for clean-energy projects. The Department of Energy has offered the Fremont, Calif.-based start-up $535 million in construction financing to expand its manufacturing capacity to 500 MW per year.

The funds will cover 73% of the cost of adding significant capacity to Solyndra's current operation. The new factory will employ about 1,000 people.

Solar industry watchers had all but given up hope that money would be made available under the program, which was authorized in the 2005 Energy Act. But last month, DOE Secretary Steven Chu vowed to streamline the application process (C&EN, Feb. 23, page 10).

Solyndra makes solar panels for installation on commercial and industrial rooftops. Rather than lay the usual silicon wafer or film under a plate of glass, the firm constructs the panels by depositing copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) photovoltaics on the inside of glass tubes.

CIGS films have been shown in the lab to be more efficient than silicon films at converting sunlight to energy, but Solyndra says its panels get their cost-effectiveness mainly from cheaper installation and denser coverage of the rooftop.

Solyndra is a curious but appropriate pick to be the first recipient of the financing, according to Glenn Harris, CEO of consultancy SunCentric. "It has taken a unique approach that a lot of people agree is very intriguing. But the government, by backing it, didn't back an esoteric, just-out-of-a-lab technology. They bet on something that is proven," he says.

In fact, the quiet but well-funded start-up claims on its website to have more than $1.5 billion in orders for the panels from customers in the U.S. and Europe. Solyndra was founded in 2005, and industry watcher CleanTech Group estimates that it has raised $820 million in venture capital funding.

Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, is hopeful that the announcement will be followed by a series of similar financing promises. She says solar capacity, which grew 17% in 2008, has been at risk of collapse because of the credit crunch.

 
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