Albuquerque Region Becomes A Hub For Solar Companies
Central New Mexico has long played a role in conventional energy, and now that role has expanded into one of national leadership in alternative energy, including biofuels, wind and, topping the list, solar power.
“The alternative-energy sector represents our best hope for growth,” says Gary Tonjes, president of Albuquerque Economic Development. “We are building on our strengths.”
Those strengths include the sunny skies overhead as well as a business climate that shines on clean energy and manufacturing – complementary assets that economic developers have leveraged to recruit new industry.
“Central New Mexico certainly has been attractive to alternative-energy manufacturers, both homegrown and international,” says Sherman McCorkle, president and chief executive officer of Technology Ventures Corp., which facilitates commercialization of new technology.
A case in point is high-tech glass giant Schott AG of Mainz, Germany. The company opened a U.S. subsidiary, Schott Solar Inc., in spring 2009 at the Mesa del Sol development just south of Albuquerque International Sunport. Currently, its operations occupy 250,000 square feet of space, where 350 workers produce photovoltaic solar panels and solar-receiver components for utility-scale solar power plants.
Schott’s initial investment of $100 million is expected to grow to $500 million, 800,000 square feet and 1,500 jobs, Tonjes says.
Also at Mesa del Sol, local startup company Advent Solar has invested about $135 million into research, development and manufacture of its pioneering solar cell design and its cell-to-module architecture known as Ventura Technology.
“Advent Solar represents a commercialization of technology that came out of Sandia National Laboratories,” McCorkle says.
The company employs about 100 people, but recent agreements to supply Advent technology to European distributors – along with Chief Executive Officer Peter Green’s stated commitment to bring the solar industry closer to grid parity and transform solar from alternative to mainstream energy – could bring significant growth as early as 2010.
Solar Installation for Valencia County
Another global company, Signet Solar GmbH, which manufactures large-area, thin-film silicon photovoltaic modules in Dresden, Germany, announced in December 2008 that it will build its first North American plant in Belen in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque. According to Signet officials, New Mexico’s commitment to renewable energy made it an obvious choice.
Scheduled to open in 2010, the 600,000-square-foot plant will employ 200 workers initially and potentially as many as 600. It will be in the master-planned Rancho Cielo community, where developers intend to use Signet solar panels on a 700-acre solar farm to power the mixed-use development.
In addition, publicly traded Emcore Corp., headquartered in Albuquerque since 1998, has expanded its semiconductor-based product line to include radiation-hardened solar cells for satellites and solar collectors for photovoltaics. According to McCorkle, Emcore’s facilities and equipment represent an investment of more than $200 million. The company’s revenue increased 41 percent during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2008, to $293.3 million, while profit decreased by $500,000 to $29.9 million.
Albuquerque and Central New Mexico are “exceptionally well-positioned going forward,” Tonjes says. He points to public policies that create a stable environment for solar companies, such as the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard – calling for 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 – and extension of the federal investment tax credit.
McCorkle agrees, citing the Obama administration’s focus on spending “not just for research and development, but for manufacturing of alternative energy – solar – and tax credits for end users. That focus will be productive for Central New Mexico.”