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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

Solar Companies Show Patience as Opportunities Rise

Many San Fernando Valley companies are striving to become top players in the solar industry, which some say is slowly gaining traction. Officials with some area companies say those who find their niche – and have the patience to withstand the ongoing challenges of promoting alternative energy – have a bright future. “We are believers in the long haul,” said John Van Scoter, CEO of eSolar, a Burbank-based company that develops concentrated solar power on a utility scale. The Valley’s largest solar companies, such as eSolar and SolarWorld Industries America, have landed major solar projects and are recognized as key industry players, even outside of the region. But some of the small solar companies are struggling to withstand the test of time and secure financing for projects. And the industry has no shortage of critics who say solar power will never be a mainstream form of energy. Scoter and others say widespread adoption of solar energy could take decades. Meanwhile, many solar projects are underway, they say. eSolar has partnered with ACME Group in India to build up to 1,000 megawatts of solar thermal power plants over the next 10 years, Scoter said. The company also has received $10.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to design, build and test a modular, baseload molten salt power plant using concentrated solar power, he said. The availability, predictability and abundance of solar energy is attractive, Scoter said, noting he expects business will grow throughout this year and next. “As projects with ACME and others begin to fan out, we will have resource needs to support those,” he said. SolarWorld, a worldwide solar panel manufacturing plant, has its U.S. sales and marketing group headquarters and some manufacturing functions in Camarillo. Company spokesman Ben Santarris said the company is working on a project with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to develop an 11.6-megawatt system that will generate enough solar energy to power more than 85,000 homes in Los Angeles. Increased production at SolarWorld will lead to employee growth, Santarris said. “There are about 250 people total in production and sales and marketing, and the sales and marketing portion of that will likely double,” he said. Craig Meyer, an environmental science professor at Pierce Community College, says the solar industry is still in its infancy. While there is buzz surrounding solar energy, as well as other forms of alternative energy such as wind power, there are “very strong limitations,” he said. “Both of (the industries) suffer from the fact that they derive from sunlight, which is a dilute energy source,” Meyer said. Scoter and Santarris dismiss the skeptics. Some people may be critical of solar projects, because they aren’t familiar with the industry. Santarris said as more projects arise, sentiments will change. “The prominence of solar will jump dramatically this year,” Santarris said. Some the of the company’s more highly visible projects include the solar panels the cover the parking lot canopy of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and those on buildings in the Yosemite National Park. “Investment (for solar projects) didn’t depend on short term cycles of economy or politics – it depended on what would happen,” Santarris said. “And it is happening.” The California Solar Initiative program has a goal to install 1,750 megawatts of solar energy in homes and businesses by 2016, when the program is scheduled to end, said Ben Airth, CSI’s residential program manager. The state’s program involves installing solar rooftop panels. More solar contractors are coming into the business, and companies today are selling a wider variety of products, Airth said. With several investors to perform for, solar companies say they’re ready to prove their success. “We can easily be a premier company in the course of the next five to 10 years,” Scoter said. SolarWorld has established itself in the solar industry with more than 30 years of experience, Santarris said. “Our track record is at a place where there is no question of reliability in terms of energy source as well as investment,” he said.

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