Clean Energy Pioneers

January 2010

Solar-powered Job Creation

Arizona Brings the Heat With Cool Economic Solutions

Posted: 25-January-2010; Updated: 25-January-2010

Few forces in nature equal the purity and intensity of the Arizona sun and few people have experienced it like Heath Hemauer. He works on Phoenix rooftops installing solar panels to capture the sun's energy to power homes and businesses.

The 32-year-old roofer knows well the most fearsome force in the Valley of Sun. "Once we were working on a dark brown metal roof and the temperature was 195 degrees," Hemauer said. "It's like being in a sauna, where you get that extremely relaxed feeling, it gets difficult to move. You don't want to be there as a human being, but it is a sweet spot for solar," he said.

Sun fuels power behind homes and jobs

Soon, many Arizonans will experience sunshine in a whole new light. The solar industry is poised for radiant growth as the state moves forward with a renewable energy standard that requires 15 percent of electrical production comes from renewable power by 2025.

"We've got everything here to support increased solar activity in our state, and in fact we probably have enough to export power to other states," said William "Pat" Patton, an energy economist at the University of Arizona.

Patton authored a report last year, "Arizona Solar Energy Economic Outlook," which examined the job benefits of capital investments to build 4,340 megawatts of solar energy by 2030. Economic benefits: 32,082 construction and installation jobs; $1.6 billion in annual wages. "Construction of solar power plants will have a significant impact on the state's economy over the next 20 years," the study finds.

That would mark a quantum leap forward as Arizona has little installed solar capacity today. But solar's future in Arizona shines brightly. Arizona Public Service Company's proposed Solana Generating Station at Gila Bend, backed by Spanish firm Abengoa Solar, will generate 280 megawatts of electricity, one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world and a foundation for future solar expansion in Arizona.

Going local, from manufacturing to installation

Some companies are surging ahead, branding their own special kind of made-in-Arizona renewable energy. For example, Solon Inc. produces solar photovoltaic arrays at a Tucson factory for use by Scottsdale-based American Solar Electric, an installation company.

Rob Wanless, business development manager for Solon, says the 140 employees at the manufacturing plant can produce enough panels to make 100 megawatts of solar power annually, or 20 percent of the German-based corporation's worldwide production. He expects double-digit growth in the next three years.

Conrad Udave, 62, has worked on the assembly line at Solon's manufacturing plant for two years since he retired as a school janitor. "I'm building something that's for the future. It's a big thing for solar renewable energy and I'm part of it. My grandkids say you're building the future. They think that's pretty cool," Udave said.

Meanwhile, the 103 employees at Arizona Solar Electric install about two new rooftop residential solar systems per day. A typical one is six kilowatts and covers about 360 square feet. Tom Alston, manager of policy and business development for ASE, said "It's important to buy and install panels made in the U.S.A. We can visit the factory where they are made, and they know the market. Our customers care a great deal about where the panels come from. They are green, but very patriotic."

Revenue doubles for Tempe-based solar company

Other companies leading Arizona's solar surge include Tempe-based First Solar Inc., which has increased production of thin-film photovoltaic cells 25-fold to 500 megawatts capacity annually. On July 27th the company's reported revenues for the first six months of fiscal year 2009 had more than doubled reaching $944.1 million, compared to $464.0 million for the first six months of 2008.

To attract more manufacturers, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law granting income and property tax rebates and cash refunds to companies that provide "green jobs" that pay 25 percent more than the state's median wage.

So in the coming months, Hemauer and his rooftop installation crews plan to be busy, atop buildings by 6 a.m. and off by 2 p.m. when the heat really sizzles. To the blistering sun, they say bring it on; Arizona is ready.