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SoloPower lands loan guarantee for solar plant

Silicon Valley solar collector maker gets $197 million loan guarantee from Energy Department to build a 400-megawatt thin-film solar factory in Oregon.

SoloPower's solar collectors are flexible and can adhere onto a flat roof.
SoloPower's solar collectors are flexible and can be adhered onto a flat roof. SoloPower

SoloPower said yesterday that it has conditional commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy for a $197 million loan guarantee to build a factory in Oregon.

The company plans to start construction of a plant in Wilsonville, Ore., in the second quarter of this year. Once operating, it will be able to turn out 400 megawatts worth of solar panels per year.

The move gives San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower the financial wherewithal to expand beyond a smaller demonstration plant in San Jose. The company has also gotten a loan and tax credits from the state of Oregon.

The company makes flexible solar collectorsusing thin-film solar cells made from a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS). Rather than the traditional glass-covered rigid panel, it makes thin strips which are designed for quick installation on corporate rooftops.

It's the third thin-film solar company to receive a DOE loan guarantee, a program designed to provide relatively low-cost financing to companies seeking to commercialize new technologies. Colorado-based Abound Solar, which makes cadmium telluride thin-film panels, received $400 million in a DOE loan as part of $510 million in financing last December.

In an interview earlier this year, DOE Loan Guarantee executive director Jonathan Silver said that thin-film solar is one technology with which U.S. technology companies have an opportunity to edge out global competitors, particularly low-cost Chinese suppliers using traditional polycrystalline silicon solar cells.

The loan guarantee program, which could be scaled back as part of budget cuts, has yet to deliver a clear winner in solar. The first recipient of a DOE loan was Solyndra, which also makes a specialized solar collector for corporate rooftops but, like all solar companies, faces ongoing cost competition globally.