When you have worked at something for a long time, it feels good for someone to notice your efforts. When you’re in the solar energy industry and U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu notices you, it’s about more than feeling good. It means you’ve arrived.
My company, Amonix, has been around for over 20 years. We’ve worked hard to establish concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar as a major component of the country’s energy future. Secretary Chu’s recent visit to our new production facility was a sign that our work has paid off.
While companies like Amonix have made great strides in making solar power technology more cost-effective and “bankable” in this economic climate, investors, customers and the public are closely watching any measures that will point toward its adoption as a mainstream energy source. When the government’s leading energy policy maker says that our technology is a viable part of this country’s renewable energy future, it resonates. It tells people in our community that we’re a new source of jobs and tax revenues. It tells the country that we’re making progress toward an economy based on renewable energy.
That was the underlying theme of Secretary Chu’s visit – building a renewable energy economy. As fascinated as he was in the science behind our products, Secretary Chu was most interested in how technology, economics and government policy combined to create over 300 renewable energy jobs in just about a year’s time. The Obama Administration envisions renewable energy and the manufacturing of renewable energy products as a major economic engine. They’ve backed up their vision with investment. Secretary Chu’s visit highlighted how a portion of that investment paying off.
Our 214,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was built in part with a $5.9 million clean energy manufacturing tax credit from the Recovery Act. We built it to meet a growing demand for our products. The facility currently employs more than 300 people assembling our CPV systems. Amonix CPV systems will power a 30-megawatt solar generating project in Colorado that will power 65,000 homes. It will be the largest facility of its type in the world. Spain’s 7.8 megawatt solar plant in Navarra, currently the world’s largest CPV, is also powered by Amonix.
The Nevada Development Authority estimates the facility will bring $560 million of overall economic impact to Southern Nevada. Construction has already created 135 jobs. In addition to supporting our growth, the Department of Energy has invested more than $440 million in 80 projects in Nevada. The department estimates that these projects will create 2,000 new jobs in the state.
As I took him on a tour of the facility, he asked insightful questions and absorbed the answers instantly. He quickly got to the bottom line of what our technology needs to fully develop so it can generate jobs and economic growth. He was very pleased with the speed of our project – less than a year from inception to completion.
Secretary Chu toured our plant and held a round-table discussion on renewable energy issues with business and government leaders. Secretary Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who holds 10 patents and has published nearly 250 scientific and technical papers. He led alternative and renewable energy technology development initiatives at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. After just a few minutes of talking, it was obvious Secretary Chu understood our technology, its enormous growth potential, and its ability to lower the cost of solar energy.
During the round table discussion, Secretary Chu took questions about the regulatory and financial obstacles to expanding the U.S.’s renewable energy industry. He talked about the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to get investment funds and tax credits to projects like ours faster, and the ongoing efforts to enshrine renewable energy development in national economic policies. Among the most welcomed comments he made were about the future. He assured the audience that the administration will do everything it can to ensure that renewable energy development remains a national priority in the long term.
Secretary Chu has a relaxed, down-to-earth style. He was a very good listener. He understood what people were saying, and his replies revealed very balanced thinking between the nation’s goals and the everyday realities of getting things done in Washington. I came away confident that he understood the important role solar energy can play in the nation’s renewable energy agenda, and grateful that he very publicly made Amonix a part of it.
(Vahan Garboushian is founder, chief technology officer and board of directors chairman at Amonix.)