Saturday, March 7, 2015

My Visit to Solarworld

Solarworld, one of the world’s leading producers of commercial and residential solar PV panels is located just a few miles west on Highway 26 in Hillsboro. The business of producing solar panels that generate electricity is booming.   There are several reasons the solar PV business is so good these days. The biggest factor is the urgent need to end our dependence on coal and oil for energy. Our addiction to dirty fossil fuels has put us on a collision course with climate change.  Weather extremes driven by human induced atmospheric warming are already here. Anybody noticed how warm it’s been in the first few months of 2015 in Oregon? What happened to the endless rain we normally experience in the winter months?  The short answer is elevated sea surface temperatures caused by human induced atmospheric heating. 

The other factor favoring wind and solar PV is the amazing drop in cost.  Solar and wind are already economically competitive to the long entrenched, dirty forms of energy on which we have long been dependent.  Nobody is investing in new coal, oil, or nuclear infrastructure these days, because it just doesn’t make financial sense.  

Kevin Keene, Regional Sales Manager for Solarworld, gave me a tour of the company’s plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, a few miles from my home.

Solarworld Plant, Hillsboro, Oregon
Solarworld manufactures photovoltaic panels that are made up of silicon-based PV wafers linked together in 38” X 66” sealed panels. The panels are 17% percent efficient at converting solar photons from the sun into electricity. Each panel is able to generate about 280 watts of electric power. In commercial and residential applications, the panels are coupled together to achieve the power level desired. A typical rooftop residential system would link 12 panels to deliver about 3500 kWh of energy, enough to meet at least half of a typical American home’s energy needs.

Kevin from Solarworld showed me the Hillsboro plant’s main manufacturing facility.  We took an elevator to the second floor and found ourselves in an open office that spans the length of the plant, with large windows overlooking the production line.

It’s no wonder the cost of PV panels is dropping precipitously. The entire production process is automated, with robots handling virtually every task.  The cavernous production space is filled with machines linked by conveyors that move each unit from one assembly step to the next. I only saw a handful of people working in the assembly area. Most of them were inspectors, tasked with conducting a rigorous round of testing to confirm that each panel produced meets Solarworld’s very high standards.

The assembly line operates 24 hours a day, with only a fraction of a percent of the new PV panels rejected because of defects or substandard performance.  Solarworld’s current production line, operating at maximum output, puts out 360 Mw annually.   The company is adding a new production line in an adjacent building that will increase capacity by nearly 50 percent. 

The clean energy revolution is clearly underway, and Solarworld is a big part of it. Their technology is second to none in quality and performance, and very competitive in cost.  

I don’t have any financial incentive or otherwise to endorse Solarworld. I just think it’s a very good company, with great technology, with a business model that works in the new, clean energy marketplace.  I expect to have solar PV on my roof in the near future. Very likely the panels will be made by Solarworld,  a ‘Made in America’ success story.

Check out this video…

Here is the link to Solarworld’s webpage…

1 comment:

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