Arizona Western draws top solar researchers and companies

Arizona Western draws top solar researchers and companiesA collection of five different solar technologies at Arizona Western College may be turning the little town of Yuma into a technology cluster at the center of the solar universe.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of attention we’re getting with this,” said Bill Smith, director of facilities management. “We’re getting about 100 calls a day.”

Many of those calls are from companies and professional research firms vying for spots in the school’s so-named “incubator” site.

The idea was for the school to lease a few office spaces around its new 5-megawatt solar array to interested companies that wanted to be able to observe and monitor the five different technologies at work, Smith said.

“We originally thought we would have five to seven incubator sites,” Smith said. “Now, we’ve more than quadrupled that, and people keep calling.”

But interest may be greater than Smith or anyone at the college bargained for.

Smith said people have been checking on the progress of the solar site, which is still under construction and not yet complete. The college has web cams trained on the construction site that people can control remotely, zoom in and use to examine solar panels.

Arizona Western’s site has seen an additional 1,000 unique web hits a day recently and 3,000 when the project was first announced.

“We can’t track specifics,” Smith said. “But we are able to see where in the world the hits are coming from, and there is virtually no area of the world that’s not watching this.”

The attention is warranted, Smith said, because Arizona is a prime location for solar research. It has a tremendous amount of sun, which makes solar incredibly effective for powering homes.

However, Arizona’s extreme heat also makes it a prime location to study efficiencies and how temperature impacts solar module efficiency.

Because Arizona Western will have five 1-megawatt systems, each using a different technology, it’s becoming a focal point for industry experts.

“There’s no other installation in the world like this,” Smith said.

The college has finished installing two of the five megawatts and should complete the rest of the array by the winter, Smith said.

Included companies are GreenVolts Inc., SolFocus, SolarWorld, Suntech and Sharp.

There are two concentrating solar projects, monocrystalline and polycrystalline photovoltaic cells and thin-film.

The college is using SatConTechnology Company’s invertors to control and manage the electricity production and distribution, Smith said.

Image courtesy of Arizona Western College.