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Local solar outlook is worldly, TREO tells visiting journalists

Sept 21, 2009 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

There's enough noonday sunlight striking the University of Arizona campus to produce 1.5 gigawatts of electricity and power all of Tucson.

Sunny skies are a key reason Tucson has attracted several companies in the solar energy industry. Economic-development officials say the city is taking its place as a solar-business hot spot of the world.

To spread that message, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. hosted several journalists last week from around the United States, including some who report for media in solar-conscious Germany. TREO paid $4,300 in travel expenses to get them here for a few days.

Here's how TREO peddled Tucson's solar industry to them:

--Solon Corp., a subsidiary of Solon SE of Germany, one of the largest solar-module builders in Europe, opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Tucson in 2007.

--Global Solar Energy, a leading manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, is headquartered in Tucson, where it recently expanded into a new building. A 750-kilowatt field installed with the combined technologies of Solon and Global helps power Global's plant.

--Schletter Inc., a German solar company, designs, manufactures and distributes solar systems from its Tucson facility, its only U.S. operation, which opened last year. "Tucson happens to have more sunshine per year than any other major city in America," Martin Hausner, Schletter's CEO, was quoted by TREO.

--General Plasma employs 50 people making components for solar panels.

--Prism Solar Technologies Inc. designs and manufactures high-efficiency holographic film and solar modules that can triple or quadruple the solar collection power of modules. The four-year-old company works with manufacturers to integrate holographic film into silicon- and thin-film-based modules.

--The University of Arizona and Arizona Public Service Energy Services are partnering to promote and develop solar technology. About 10 percent of the university's energy will come from solar systems.

The UA has created the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy (AzRISE). Also, the U.S. Energy Department has awarded UA $15 million to create an Energy Frontier Research Center to study new thin-film photovoltaic systems that can be used virtually anywhere, including as part of clothing.

--Tucson Electric Power Co. and the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy have formed a partnership with Tucson International Airport, Solon and Raytheon Missile Systems to build a large solar-energy demonstration center.

--On Wednesday, Tucson Electric Power Co. announced plans for two new sun-fueled power projects, including a solar panel array that would be nearly twice as large as the biggest operational system in the nation. The company is to build a 25-megawatt photovoltaic array and a 5-megawatt concentrating solar power plant by January 2012 to help meet a goal of getting 15 percent of its power from renewable sources.

--Biosphere 2, a UA research center, is installing 470 solar collectors to power its conference center and serve as a site in a global survey of solar-collection capacities at different points around the planet.

Laura Shaw, TREO's senior vice president for marketing and communications, said the visiting journalists were leaving Tucson with a firsthand look at its strong, emerging solar industry.

She said those preparing stories for the media in Germany indicated they would be letting that country know it has some real competition in Tucson for generating solar business.