Solar energy leaders talk about bright future during conference in Loveland …

February 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News



 

New Abound Solar product

Loveland-based Abound Solar announced Monday that it has begun producing 82.8-watt photovoltaic modules at its factory in Longmont.

Abound, which employs about 400 people — most of them in Colorado — uses thin-film cadmium telluride technology in its electricity-producing panels. Its products are used in commercial and utility-scale settings.

About two and a half years ago, Abound first made a 45-watt panel, CEO Craig Witsoe said Friday. Since then it has produced incrementally better modules and plans to start producing 85-watt modules in the first half of 2013.

Abound produced its one-millionth module in December, according to a press release from the company. It is expanding its Longmont facility and has leased a former auto transmission factory in Tipton, Ind., where it plans to start producing its solar panels next year.

LOVELAND — The CEO of a Loveland solar energy company believes that any business that relies on long-term government subsidies shouldn’t be in business at all, but in the short term, such help can be necessary.

Craig Witsoe, president and CEO of Abound Solar since November, spoke Friday morning during a panel discussion on the changing solar marketplace — part of the two-day Solar Power Colorado conference at the Embassy Suites conference center.

Abound manufactures thin-film solar panels for large installations at a factory in Longmont and has its headquarters in Loveland.

For solar energy to replace fossil fuels in the United States, “it’s got to be reliable, and it’s got to be cheap,” Witsoe said, and right now, government subsidies to consumers and producers are needed to keep the cost down.

Another panelist, Jane Palmieri, vice president of Dow Solar, pointed out that every energy form has been subsidized at some point in its development.

Witsoe, Palmieri and the other two panelists spent much of their time talking about the challenge of China, where the government has been aggressively pursuing solar energy. The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating charges that Chinese companies have been “dumping” solar-energy products on the U.S. market at prices below the actual cost to make them.

If it finds that the Chinese government is engaging in unfair trade practices, the U.S. could impose punitive tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels to protect American companies.

Witsoe said that’s another area in which government help is important.

“If I’m a company fighting a company, that’s what competition is about,” Witsoe said. “But a company fighting a country … that’s different.” Tariffs might not feel right, he added, but if the actions of the Chinese government are crushing U.S. companies, then they are appropriate.

On the positive side, Witsoe said the competition from countries such as China and Germany “is going to get us to the lowest possible cost faster than we would have.”

Abound’s electricity-producing panels use cadmium telluride technology, which isn’t as efficient yet as the more common crystalline silicon panels.

The company, which works closely with researchers at Colorado State University, will continue to “focus, focus, focus on the efficiency of the panel, because that’s how we’re going to change the world,” Witsoe said.

“If you don’t have the best technology, you’re not going to win.”

Panelist Greg Wilson, director of the National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, said, “We’re entering what I call the decade of solar.”

He said researchers are moving forward “amazingly quickly.”

“A lot of things are in the pipeline that are going to affect what people install in the next five years,” Wilson said.

In his position, Wilson said he encounters a lot of idealistic young scientists and engineers. “I encourage them,” he said. “There are jobs. There are opportunities there. You can make a difference.”

Also sounding an idealistic note, Abound Solar’s Witsoe talked about the solar energy industry’s mission to help the United States arrive at energy independence. “We see this world where people have rooftops that generate energy so you don’t have to fight a war over it; you put it on your house. That sounds pretty good to me.”

Craig Young can be reached at 635-3634 or cyoung@reporter-herald.com.

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