Reviewing last week's solar energy news

Reviewing last week's solar energy news With Solar Power International under way in Dallas this week, there’s sure to be a lot of solar news coming from Texas. But last week had some big news as well.

The biggest news last week was likely GE’s new PV manufacturing plant. The company will build a 400-megawatt manufacturing plant in Aurora, Colo., creating 355 manufacturing jobs in the process. It will be the first plant where GE will make thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaics, and in terms of capacity, it will be the largest single PV manufacturing plant in the U.S. when completed.

GE’s also partnered with Nissan to study using electric vehicle batteries for energy storage. The companies are working to develop a charging infrastructure that can use solar power to charge EV batteries and then use them as a power source.

A major boon to the solar industry, the 1603 Treasury Program, is set to expire. The program allows investors in solar projects to reap tax incentives upon project completion via a grant, rather than waiting for reimbursement under the tax code. The tool has spurred tax-equity investors to support projects, and without it, the solar industry could lose jobs. However, if it’s extended into 2012, it could add more than 30,000 new solar jobs, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

With PV prices at all-time lows, people more and more are turning their attention to the other costs of solar, like permitting. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) recently signed SB 226 into law. The new law helps reduce permitting time for solar projects in California, particularly for urban infill projects and projects choosing to convert from solar thermal to photovoltaic technology.

TREC Renewable Energy Cooperative has created SolarShare Community bonds that offer a guaranteed return of 5 percent annually for a period of five years. The bonds support community solar projects, but only in Ontario. The group is able to offer the return rates of the $1,000 (Canadian) bonds because of Ontario’s feed-in tariff.

Solar was recognized as a winner in awards from two different organizations last week. Solaria won Popular Mechanics 2011 Breakthrough Awards. The magazine awarded a total of 10 companies for revolutionary breakthroughs. Solaria was recognized for developing low-concentration photovoltaics that significantly reduce the amount of silicon they need while maintaining the efficiency of comparable modules.

GreenSpec and Evironmental Building News also awarded two solar companies at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Toronto, Canada. Ritter XL’s Solar Thermal System, distributed in North America by Regasol, was awarded for its highly efficient solar water heaters. AllEarth Renewables was awarded for its AllSun Tracker system, which it claims can help a photovoltaic system produce 35 percent to 45 percent more energy than a fixed-mount system.

Two major food makers added in solar at plants in Arizona last week. Though you might find snacks from one more tasty than those from the other.

Frito-Lay announced that it now has five separate solar power installations at its site in Casa Grande, Ariz. You might not like the treats from Nestle Purina PetCare’s manufacturing facility in Flagstaff, Ariz., but your puppies and kitties will. The plant just completed a 427-kilowatt rooftop array, the largest in the region.

Image courtesy of GE.