Solar Power Industries: Researching New Manufacturing Methods to Cut Waste and Improve Efficiency
Solar Power Industries, based in Rostraver, PA, makes a wide range of photovoltaic products, including silicon ingots, wafers, solar cells and custom systems. The plant manufactures solar cells for sale, produces cells for conversion to modules and provides power systems for placement on current structures.
Because the cost of raw silicon (the core material in ingots, wafers and cells) has escalated significantly in the past two years, Solar Power Industries, (SPI) engaged with Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) to research and fund the implementation of new manufacturing methods that help to contain the rising costs.
For example, BFTP partnered the company with the Materials Research Institute at Penn State University to test and perfect a method for compacting silicon powder in the ingot-forging process. This project will help the company contain costs by cutting down on material waste and building greater efficiency into the manufacturing process.
The company also received an $18,000 BFTP Innovation Adoption Grant to retain many of its manufacturing floor laborers and give the company a cost-competitive edge that will help to continue Solar Power Industries’ growth on its current trajectory.
SPI’s solar cells are used in state parks, homes and businesses and will be used for the world’s first solar-powered trolleys in Pittsburgh. SPI, which now employs 170 people, enjoyed a 337 percent growth in the past two years, a huge leap from their startup days in 2003.
Four years ago, less than one percent of the nation’s electricity was based on solar power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but the solar power industry itself is growing at a rate of 40 percent per year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, photovoltaic power will be competitive in price with traditional sources of electricity within 10 years.
Keynotes May, 2009
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