Obama Announces $2 Billion For Solar Energy Projects

President Obama announced Saturday in his weekly radio address that the Department of Energy has agreed to back nearly $2 billion in loans to two solar power companies for projects in Arizona, Colorado and Indiana.

The loan guarantees will go to two firms: Spanish solar firm Abengoa Solar Inc. will receive a $1.45 billion loan guarantee to construct a 280 megawatt concentrating solar power facility in Solana, Arizona, while Colorado-based solar start-up Abound Solar will receive a $400 million guarantee to finance factory expansions in Colorado and Indiana.

Abengoa’s concentrating solar power plant will be the first in the US to use a thermal energy storage system to store electricity generated during the day for use after the sun has set.

The plant, which will provide approximately 1,600 construction jobs and 85 permanent jobs, will use mirrored parabolic troughs that collect the sun’s energy to heat fluid contained in pipes running the length of the troughs. The superheated fluid is then circulated through a steam turbine to generate electricity, and to heat salt in an enormous tank, which traps the heat to run the turbine at night or when the sky is overcast.

Abound Solar will use its loan to expand manufacturing in Longmont, Colorado and in Tipton, Indiana. The Tipton plant will be in a factory formerly home to a Chrysler parts manufacturer. Combined, the plants are expected to generate 1,500 jobs.

Questioning company forecasts…

Ambitious Abound Solar is attempting to compete with one of the world’s most successful solar panel companies, First Solar, maker of low-cost thin film solar panels.¬†Abound claims it has invented a completely automated process for manufacturing thin film panels “allowing the company to convert sheets of glass into solar panels in less than two hours without human labor,” according to an interview CEO Pascal Noronha gave to Reuters last year.

Yet in the same interview, the company also claimed its manufacturing facility would be producing 65 MW worth of panels by the end of 2009, and 200 MW by the middle of 2010.¬†But according to a spokesperson reached today, the company is still “ramping up” the 65 MW line which “will be done by the end of the year” — which is what they said last year.

Of course, optimistic forecasts followed by delays are hardly rare in the start-up business – especially in cleantech – and at any rate the DOE is apparently unconcerned with the delay, as evidenced by the fresh loan. Clearly, plenty of people are excited about Abound Solar’s potential.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.