Spire Corporation announced that they have been awarded a US$5.2 million cost-shared contract from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) to develop automated manufacturing processes for fabricating large-scale solar electric modules.Bedford, Massachusetts, July 17, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] The three-year research and development contract will enhance Spire’s capabilities for building high-volume production equipment that can assemble solar modules as large as 10 feet by 8 feet or more than five times the size of today’s standard size module, said the company. NREL will fund one half of the cost-shared contract, or approximately US$2.7 million, under the Photovoltaic Manufacturing Research and Development (PVMRD) program; and US$2.5 million will be spent by Spire. “This contract will enable our Spire Solar business to raise its core machine building skills to the next level,” said Roger G. Little, President and CEO of Spire Corporation. “The equipment and technology that we plan to develop under this program will enable the building of super-sized modules, each generating as much as one kW.” The larger the size of the PV module, the lower the overall cost of an installed photovoltaic system, little said. The company said they anticipate these new modules can be used to cover contaminated land sites with large utility-connected arrays to generate clean energy. “Our objective is to show that it can be economically feasible to transform industrial brownfields into Solar Brightfields,” little said. “We see a big potential market for “Solar Breeder” factories, a term used for photovoltaic module assembly factories that will continuously produce these specialized modules for deployment in Solar Brightfields.” A research and development partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. photovoltaic industry, PVMRD aims to help U.S. companies increase their international competitiveness by improving photovoltaic manufacturing processes and equipment and accelerating manufacturing cost reductions for photovoltaic modules. Spire’s initial 1998 PVMRD contract, now completed, resulted in the development of several types of automated PV assembly equipment suitable for use with crystalline-silicon solar cells or thin-film solar-cell laminates.