Solar Cell, Module Manufacturing for New Mexico

New Mexico will soon be home to a new 25-MW solar-photovoltaic cell and module manufacturing facility. Advent Solar, a company with research roots in the state, this week committed to a large new facility in Mesa del Sol as the future location for its research, development and manufacturing plant.

The new facility will be based in a 12,000-acre development and solar cluster in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Russell Schmit, president and CEO of Advent Solar, said the large facility, expected to be completed by June 2006, is designed with expansion in mind. “The entire facility is big enough to expand to 50 MW and we anticipate doing that as quickly as we can,” Schmit said. The company’s solar cells are silicon based but are noteworthy in their “back-contact” design, which the company says reduces assembly and manufacturing costs by eliminating the front to back connection step. As part of this approach, the company applies a unique Emitter Wrap-through design it says offers lighter weight, higher efficiency and a lower cost per watt than traditional solar cells. Schmitt would not disclose what the final commercial cost per watt is expected to be. He did say the cells clock in at 14 percent efficiency on their current pilot line with “a compromised process,” suggesting higher efficiencies in future lines. He added the cells are similar to the cells produced by Sunnyvale, California-based Sunpower but benefit from a simpler manufacturing process. Silicon supply, the raw material for the cells, is a concern for any manufacturer. Schmit said they have secured enough supply for the initial 25-MW line. The project was made possible through $30 million in Series C funding. The round was led by Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on investing in technology-driven companies at all stages of growth. Existing investors EnerTech Capital Partners, @Ventures, the New Mexico Co-Investment Partners (managed by Fort Washington Capital Partners Group), and Angels with Attitude also participated, as did new investor, Firelake Capital. New Mexico’s Bill Gov. Richardson held a press event to announce the news in his state. As a former Secretary of Energy for the Department of Energy, Richardson has been one of the most bullish governors toward expanding renewable energy use and businesses in his state. Gov. Richardson said Advent’s payroll is estimated to be more than $35 million in five years. State and local tax revenues are expected to exceed $60 million during the same five-year period. “I am especially proud of the work we have done with the renewable energy industry to create high-wage, high-tech jobs here in what I call the Clean Energy State,” Gov. Richardson said. “Advent Solar is an important part of these efforts and I am pleased to announce that these jobs created here will stay here in New Mexico.” The solar cells Advent produces are based on technology developed at Sandia National Laboratories by scientist and inventor James Gee, who is Advent’s chief technology officer. Advent’s initial startup was aided, in part, by donated equipment from Next Generation Economy, Inc., part of a $17 million equipment donation by Intel Corporation. UNM provided valuable lab space to facilitate the testing of the company’s pilot line.
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