Monday, November 30, 2009

Solar Energy Industry Brings Ray of Hope to the Rust Belt

Could America's emerging renewable energy industry revitalize our ailing Rust Belt?

Encouraged by the stimulus package and new clean energy incentives, that's exactly what's happening, reports the L.A. Times:

For all of green tech's futuristic sheen, solar power plants and wind farms are made of much of the same stuff as automobiles: machine-stamped steel, glass and gearboxes.

That has renewable energy companies hitting the highway for Detroit and Northeastern industrial states, driven in part by the federal stimulus package's incentives and buy-American mandates.

Irvine's Fisker Automotive, for instance, will manufacture its next plug-in electric hybrid car at a defunct General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington, Del.

And Stirling Energy Systems, which is building two massive solar power plants in Southern California, has signed deals with two automotive companies to make components for its giant solar dishes.

Stirling signed an agreement with Tower Automotive to manufacture the dishes' structural components and assemble the mirror facets. The Livonia, Mich., company makes vehicle body parts and other components for the major carmakers but has seen auto orders slow with the downturn.

Jim Bernard, Tower's vice president of North American sales and program management, said the company had been looking to diversify its operations.

"The market that we thought would fit us was alternative energy," he said. "Utility-scale alternative energy projects have some of the exact same requirements that our automotive customers do."

That means Tower can use its existing machinery, with some modifications, and workforce to make SunCatcher components. In turn, Stirling avoids the capital costs of setting up its own factories and gets to tap Tower's manufacturing know-how to bring down its costs, which will be a key competitive advantage in the race to deploy new solar technologies.

I love articles that present a concrete picture of the hope that the Green Economy has to offer.  This is certainly one of them.

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1 comment:

  1. That's exactly what I was hoping for. Solar technology has the potential to rekindle some of our lost manufacturing power. That would be really cool if it happened. I'm with you.