You recently started production of your hybrid photovoltaic (electric) and thermal solar panel, tell us about that.
Our PV-T modules were introduced to the U.S. market in 2009. Previously, they were imported from Germany. As interest in our modules, and installation projects continued to grow rapidly throughout 2009, 2010 and 2011, it became clear that a North American manufacturing operation would be needed much sooner than later. Through another local renewable energy manufacturer we have partnered with, we began discussions with the state of Indiana and the town of Osgood in the spring of 2012. Incentive packages from both the state and local community were quickly developed and agreed upon. The announcement that SolarZentrum North America, Inc. would be coming to Osgood, IN was made in late summer 2012. We are currently housed in a temporary facility and are planning to break ground on a new facility during the second half of 2014.
Is your PV-Therm “combinable” with other renewable energy technologies?
Our modules can be combined with wind and biogas generation as well as heat-recovery technologies. The thermal energy produced can be easily converted to both heating and cooling capacity.
In the past people have often complained that panels become too hot to use, or that there isn’t enough sunshine. How do your modules handle that?
You are correct, Once the surface temperature of the module rises above 75 degrees F, the efficiency of the module to produce electricity declines very rapidly. With our technology, we "cool" the panel by circulating liquid across the back of the glass laminate. The liquid absorbs the heat from the glass and transports it away for storage and use in other energy applications. While direct sunlight is always best for solar energy production and thermal heating, all that is actually needed for electric generation is the UV radiation. Even on overcast/cloudy days, our modules still produce significant amounts of electric energy. One great feature about our module is that in areas where conventional solar modules can quickly become snow/ice covered and cannot produce electricity, we simply reverse the flow of the circulating liquid and use the stored thermal energy to melt the snow/ice from the panels, and very quickly they are producing electricity.
What kind of developments are still possible in the next few years that could once again increase the efficiency of the modules?
For us, and all solar module manufactures, a key development moving forward will be increasing overall power generation efficiencies from smaller modules. Very smart people are investing large sums of money into new solar cell coating technologies, new wafer and cell materials. I have also seen the next generation of solar cell manufacturing - nano particle 3D printing.
You manufacture here in the United States, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of that?
Advantages are being able to more quickly respond to, and meet a client's project timeline; no more waiting 3 to 4 weeks for modules to be shipped from Germany. No longer being hurt competitively by exchange rates, import taxes and international shipping costs. The only disadvantage at this time is inability to find domestic sources for a couple key components we still import from Germany.
You have plans to develop the United States’ first self-sustainable business park in Osgood, Indiana. Tell us about that.
We are very early in the process, but we think we have developed a very viable vision/concept. The basic idea is to surround ourselves with our key business partners to minimize overall supply chain costs and foster an environment of close collaboration and innovation; by being close together, we can work more closely together. Our idea is to generate enough solar, biogas and wind energy to supply all the companies within the business park with free energy. We see this as a great incentive that can be offered to entice new companies to come to Osgood.
When do you hope to have this open and how do you hope to accomplish that?
Only recently has all the necessary legal steps been completed to make the land available for such development. We plan to move in to the business park in early 2015, and I can see the possibility of having at least one partner come to the business park about the same time. To say when the park will be filled is impossible at this time. Its up to us to demonstrate to our partners and non-partner companies the value proposition in coming to Osgood.
What hurdles have you come across already and expect to see in order to get this business park up and running.
The biggest hurdle will be in finding companies interested in re-locating, or finding start-up companies that need a place to "set-up shop". Continued support from the state and local governments to provide attractive incentive packages to these firms will be critical. As small communities continue to struggle with "making ends meet," their ability to provide continued support becomes a challenge. We have all the land, all the technology, and all the moral support, we need companies and money to make it happen.
Where do you see Solar Zentrum and the business park 5 years from now?
I see us as the cornerstone, employing close to 140 employees across two production shifts. While ambitious, I hope we are recognized as the world's leader in the manufacture and installation of PV-T modules. Additonal plans include developing the ability to produce PV modules alongside our PV-T modules. We are patent protected for the next 7 years, so now is our window of opportunity. As for the business park I hope to see an additional 5 to 7 renewable energy technology/manufacturing firms in place, free of paying the local utility for electric and thermal energy.
Solarzentrum North America was established in 2009 and offers innovative solar energy products. We call Indiana home and are proud to manufacture the first patented hybrid module in the United States. Our Combined Heat and Power (CHP) solar module provides up to 4 times more energy output (thermal and electric power) than any standard photovoltaic module. Our goal is to be environmentally friendly, energy efficient, and future-oriented at the same time.