Double boost for U.S. solar energy industry
Solar energy production in the United States has taken a big step forward with the announcement of a loan guarantee to an American company developing new technology.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, Inc. for developing multicrystalline wafers used in the solar energy harvesting process.
According to the US Government, the project will be capable of producing 700 to 1,000 megawatts (MW) of silicon-based wafers ever year, reducing manufacturing costs by 50 per cent and halving the cost of solar power.
The first phase of the project will be based in Lexington, Massachusetts, creating 70 permanent jobs and 50 construction jobs.
Secretary Chu said: "This project is a game-changer that could dramatically lower the cost of photovoltaic solar cells. It is exactly the kind of innovation that puts America at the forefront of the global clean energy race. As global demand for solar cells increases, this kind of technology will help the U.S. increase its market share and be more competitive with other countries such as China, which currently accounts for 60 per cent of the world supply of multicrystalline wafers."
The news comes as figures show that the U.S. solar energy industry continued to be one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy in the first quarter of this year.
Released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, the figures show that grid-connected solar electric installations have reached more than 2.85 gigawatts (GW), enough to power almost 600,000 U.S. homes.
In the first quarter of the year, the United States installed 252 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected photovoltaics (PV), up 66 per cent on the same time last year. Commercial installations represented the biggest proportion.
Shayle Kann, Managing Director of Solar at GTM Research, said: "On the whole, the U.S. is currently the PV industry's most attractive and stable growth market. This is reflected in our report's quarterly market data and in the comments from global suppliers, distributors, and developers, all of whom see the U.S. positioned to nearly double its global market share in 2011 and support a greater diversity of installation types than has been previously seen in any leading demand centre."
Tom Kimbis, SEIA Vice-President of Strategy and External Affairs, said: "With analysts predicting the U.S. to become the world's largest solar market within the next few years, manufacturers are increasingly looking to the U.S. to site their facilities."
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