Northwest Renewable News

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Arlington, Wash. firm leads way in solar panels October 23, 2009

Filed under: Manufacturing,Solar,Washington — nwrenewablenews @ 12:57 am
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Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that makes a product special.

When you stand beneath a solar panel built by Arlington’s Silicon Energy, you won’t see jumbled, ugly wires or opaque padding. You’ll see blue from the silicon cells and sunlight streaming through.

“It makes a better looking product and a safer one,” said Gary Shaver, president and chief executive of Silicon Energy.

Silicon Energy, the state’s first solar-panel manufacturer, released the product to the market this summer, when the company received certification from Underwriters Laboratory for its solar modules. The UL’s stamp of approval means Silicon Energy’s solar panels meet product safety and compliance guidelines.

The certification process took longer than Silicon Energy’s Shaver expected. But that’s not unheard of when you’re doing something different — like hiding the panel’s electrical gear in small, protected side panels and sandwiching silicon between supersturdy glass.

Silicon Energy’s product is more expensive than some on the market. The company promotes its solar modules as “beautiful, strong and durable.”

“We’re not a cheap product,” Shaver said.

Silicon Energy prices a 1.4-kilowatt panel between $11,000 and $14,000. But government incentives are making solar panels an attractive product for consumers, businesses and utilities.

The federal government offers a tax credit to consumers for up to 30 percent of the purchase and installation costs for a solar panel system. The state has a production incentive of 15 to 54 cents per kilowatt hour, with power produced from Washington-made products receiving the higher amount. And the state has made it easier for Silicon Energy to do business in Washington, offering a 43 percent reduction from the standard business and occupations tax rate for solar manufacturers. Additionally, local utilities, such as Snohomish County’s PUD, provide further incentives to consumers for solar power.

Silicon Energy designed its solar panels to withstand 125 pounds per square foot, making the product durable enough to endure high winds and heavy snows. The company’s solar panels can be used for canopies, carports and awnings as well as more traditional roof installations or wall installations. Eight panels could provide 40 percent to 50 percent of a typical home’s electricity, Shaver said.

As a small start-up company, Silicon Energy is a little slow on the production side, but it’s picking up the pace, Shaver said. Together with its parent company, OutBack Power Systems, Silicon employs about 20 people. While the company is providing some jobs on the manufacturing side, Shaver sees his company helping to create green jobs on the installation and power distribution side of the industry. And that’s what drew kudos from Rep. Jay Inslee when Silicon Energy got the OK to start selling UL-certified products this summer.

“The certification again shows us that Washington leads the way in the clean-energy economy,” Inslee said.

Despite the rain, western Washington has an excellent climate for solar power production, Shaver said. It’s a popular misconception that solar panels work best in hot, dry sites.

“Our spring, summer and fall are spectacular for generating energy,” Shaver said.

By Michelle Dunlop, HeraldNet


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