The company I work for was once again featured in the news, thanks to my efforts. This time, a local publication, Lake Mary Life Magazine wrote a great indepth feature story regarding our solar panel manufacturing plant and what's in store for us. Our facility is located in Central Florida in the city of Lake Mary.
To read the story on Advanced Solar Photonics where Demitri Nikitin, Edgardo Rodriguez and myself, Maureen McHale are quoted, either click on the Lake Mary Life Logo above, or read the article below...
Here comes the sun Solar panel plant energizes Lake Mary
by Peter Reilly
Posted Jun 18, 2009 at 07:00 AM
Lake Mary’s future is looking bright and sunny – thanks to solar panel maker, Advanced Solar Photonics (ASP). In a move perfectly timed with President Obama’s call to develop renewable sources of energy to grow the economy, the company has launched a $40 million project to build out 100,000 square feet at their facility on Rinehart Road and become the first solar panel manufacturing plant in Florida.
The project, dubbed SolarFAB, is expected to be up and running this summer and should bring 200 new jobs for area residents, along with an economic boost to Seminole County and the state. Over the next two years, as the company grows, an additional 1,300 new jobs could be created.
“This is a remarkable opportunity, not just for our city, but for our entire region to have such a cutting-edge company provide job growth and opportunities for enhanced economic development,” says Lake Mary Mayor David Mealor. “It’s an excellent match for the types of target industries we’ve been attempting to draw to the Central Florida region. Especially with so many communities struggling financially, we’re very fortunate that people are willing to invest in Lake Mary. It speaks volumes about our community.”
Customer response to ASP’s decision to produce solar panels in Florida has been very positive; the project has become even more ambitious than first conceived. Originally the company was planning to apply thin-film conductive material over glass to produce up to 40-megawatt solar panels.
But now ASP also plans to use monocrystalline technology to make larger panels that can produce up to 500 megawatts in output. These panels could be mounted on solar towers at a mall to power the entire mall and even reduce a user’s utility bill by feeding unused energy back to the power company’s grid. The panels could also be mounted on the roofs of schools and big box stores like Walmart.
That’s a lot of power. A megawatt is 1,000,000 watts. By comparison, the average homeowner would use a 2-kilowatt solar panel system to power a house. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts.
Maureen McHale, ASP’s corporate marketing and public relations manager, says the company will start by producing 5-megawatt panels and then increase 50 megawatts every couple of months, and eventually build up production over the next two years to the 500-megawatt panels.
“Demand for panels is so high right now,” says Maureen, “It’s just exponentially growing.”
In a very short time SolarFAB could be the largest thin-film and monocrystalline solar manufacturing plant in the country. It is also the only solar panel company in the nation to have a product that is 100 percent manufactured in the USA, the company’s CEO Demitri Nikitin pointed out.
Demitri brought ASP, a cutting-edge developer of laser equipment, to America from Austria in 2001. The company has been in Lake Mary since 2008. He says the company had many reasons for relocating to this area. Central Florida is a high-tech hub with a skilled workforce. Lake Mary is a wonderful place to live and the Lake Mary Commissioners, along with the county’s Economic Development Commission, have been very supportive.
“The facility is a tremendous fit,” says Demitri, referring to the Rinehart Road plant. “Lake Mary is one of the best places to live in the United States. It’s surrounded by areas from which we can pull qualified people. We think it’s a perfect place for us to start high volume manufacturing of a high-tech product.”
And one other thing - it’s really, really sunny here most of the year.
“This is the Sunshine State,” says Demitri. “There’s obviously plenty of sunshine to support the solar panel business.”
Now is the perfect time for ASP to be in the solar energy business. Solar panel efficiency is up to around 17 percent from a meager 1 percent when the technology debuted. The price of traditional energy has risen high enough to make solar energy cost-effective. And the government is providing millions of dollars in stimulus money to encourage solar energy development and production.
ASP also has a clear advantage over other companies. Their laser technology allows them to produce solar panels more efficiently and at a lower cost than traditional manufacturers.
“We’re focusing on making the manufacturing process more efficient,” says Maureen. “As new technology comes out we will incorporate that into our process. We’ll not only have the highest-efficiency panels, we’ll have the lowest manufacturing cost.”
Demitri points out that the company will also make money from power purchase agreements with power utilities. ASP would convert “brown fields” - land that is unsuitable for any other use - into solar energy farms. ASP would then sell the energy to the power company. He said they have already identified areas in Lake Mary that could be used for this purpose. Demitri believes a solar farm could generate power comparable to that of an atomic power plant.
It seems that the sky… no make that the sun, is the limit.
“It’s very exciting,” says Edgardo Rodriguez, ASP executive vice president. “Solar farms are a perfect alternative to building nuclear plants. This is the only industry I see for the real creation of jobs and the growth of the economy. We all use energy and the demand for energy will continue to grow. The solar energy industry is the only industry that will save the economy of the United States.”
And if he’s right, the nation’s economic recovery could start right here in Lake Mary.