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Report: NM could nearly triple solar jobs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the right strategies, New Mexico could become a bustling hub for developing and building novel, cutting-edge solar technologies, according to a new study by the California-based American Jobs Project.

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This file photo shows dozens of rows of solar panels that make up Public Service Co. of New Mexico\’s 2-megawatt photovoltaic array near its natural gas-fired generating station in Albuquerque. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

The report, released Tuesday in partnership with the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says the state could nearly triple its solar-related jobs from about 2,500 now to 6,800 over the next 12 years through a comprehensive, cluster-development approach that helps propel homegrown research, development and commercialization of advanced solar technology.

That means focusing on the innovative science and engineering breakthroughs already emerging from New Mexico’s national labs and universities to develop next-generation photovoltaics that could eventually turn windows, buildings and even everyday fabrics into electric generators.

The market for that type of innovation is growing exponentially, and New Mexico is well-poised to become a key player as the solar industry moves beyond traditional PV cells and panels, said American Jobs Project director Kate Ringness, who co-authored the report on New Mexico.

“Our research shows that the state can continue to capitalize on this opportunity by becoming a hub for advanced solar technologies,” Ringness said. “This report offers a practical roadmap for expanding advanced solar manufacturing in New Mexico to create good-paying manufacturing jobs in a sector that’s growing worldwide.”

Many local startups are already working to market next-generation technologies conceived in New Mexico’s labs and universities. Albuquerque-based mPower Technology Inc., for example, is using microscale solar cells created by Sandia National Laboratories to make lightweight, flexible PV sheets for use in everyday products and structures. Ubiquitous Quantum Dots is using technology from Los Alamos National Laboratory to create an electric-generating coating for windows that can channel photons from sunlight to PV cells attached to window frames.

The report offers recommendations to help transfer more technology from lab to market, including creating an advanced solar center of excellence to push innovation and support entrepreneurship; starting a technology maturation loan fund, launching collaborative efforts to seek foundation grants for programs and companies and increasing opportunities for youths to train for jobs in solar-related companies.

Perhaps most important, the report calls for a cluster development strategy based on collaboration among the labs, universities, government institutions and businesses.

BBER Director Jeffrey Mitchell called that a forward-looking strategy.

“New Mexico has missed the economic development boat in the past with outdated strategies to recruit business,” Mitchell said. “This is looking ahead at how to get in on the ground floor of something not yet developed.”

It could also help diversify the local economy and broaden the state’s manufacturing base, Mitchell said. Today, New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation in manufacturing, which accounts for 3.2 percent of total employment.

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