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Their day in the sun

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Array Technologies Inc., which makes solar trackers at a 50,000-square-foot facility in Albuquerque, is bursting at the seams from rapid growth in recent years.

The company is building a 23,000-square-foot expansion that will be finished by December to accommodate more employees at all levels, including administrators, sales people and factory workers, President and CEO Ron Corio told the Journal.

An Array Technologies employee works next to solar tracker motors  at the company’s 50,000-square-foot factory and warehouse at 3901 Midway Place NE in the North I-25 industrial corridor. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

An Array Technologies employee works next to solar tracker motors at the company’s 50,000-square-foot factory and warehouse at 3901 Midway Place NE in the North I-25 industrial corridor. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Array’s workforce has grown from 35 in 2010 to 160 today. And, although Corio stopped revealing income totals after 2010, when Array reported $38 million in sales, the company does say its revenue has leaped by 336 percent since then.

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“We’re very bullish,” Corio told the Journal. “The utility market is doing very well, and the residential market is just on fire.”

It’s been the same story for most U.S. solar companies in the last few years. The industry continues to expand nationwide by double-digit clips every quarter as utilities, homeowners and commercial and institutional enterprises scramble to acquire solar photovoltaic installations.

Strong national growth

In its latest report released Sept. 12, the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industry Association said residential, commercial and utility-scale solar PV installations grew 15 percent across the country from April-June, compared with the January-March quarter. Another 832 megawatts of capacity were added nationwide, making it the industry’s second-best quarter ever.

The association projects a total of 4.4 gigawatts of solar PV will be installed across the country by year-end, representing a 30 percent increase from the 3.3 GW installed in 2012.

In fact, if concentrating solar-power installations are included, by year-end an accumulated total of 10 GW of solar generation will be installed in the U.S. – enough to power more than 1.5 million American homes, according to the association.

Concentrating solar installations use mirror arrays to heat liquids to create steam for running turbine generators, whereas solar PV converts sunlight directly into electricity.

This is Public Service Company of New Mexico’s Los Lunas Solar Energy Center. The center was built in 2011, but it was expanded in 2013, according to PNM. (Courtesy of PNM)

This is Public Service Company of New Mexico’s Los Lunas Solar Energy Center. The center was built in 2011, but it was expanded in 2013, according to PNM. (Courtesy of PNM)

N.M. No. 5 in the U.S.

New Mexico mirrors national trends. Statewide, installed solar capacity reached 190 megawatts last year, up 12 percent from 2011, according to a new report released this summer by the Environment New Mexico Research and Policy Center. That made New Mexico fifth in the nation per capita for solar installations.

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This year, Public Service Company of New Mexico nearly will double its utility-scale solar power, adding 20 MW. And the company proposes to build another 23 MW of capacity in 2014 in a new filing with the state Public Regulation Commission. In addition, First Solar Inc. is building a 50 MW solar plant in southern New Mexico to supply El Paso Electric Co., making it the largest solar facility to date in New Mexico.

The growing demand for solar has generated substantial opportunities for solar-product manufacturers and system installers in New Mexico, especially for companies such as Array Technologies that serve both local and national markets.

Array has become one of the world’s largest makers of solar trackers, which are used to tilt and turn solar panels to follow the sun, increasing electric output from PV systems.

The company expects to have shipped 1.2 GW of solar-tracking systems during its current fiscal year, which ends March 31. That’s up 35 percent in FY 2012, Corio said.

As of September, Array had sold an accumulated total of 1.7 GW of solar trackers since 2006, equivalent to about 20 percent of the total PV capacity installed in the U.S. today.

‘Some huge projects’

Array Technologies employees work next to stacks of bushings for the company’s solar trackers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Array Technologies employees work next to stacks of bushings for the company’s solar trackers. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The company just finished supplying solar trackers for a huge photovoltaic project in Southern California. And in July, it signed a contract for solar trackers for installations in Indiana.

“We’re signing up some huge projects on both the East and West coasts,” Corio said.

In addition, the company is expanding into South America, where the solar market is growing, beginning with an office in Chile that will open by December.

“We just shipped solar trackers for a 1 MW project in Chile, and we’re quoting some pretty large systems there now,” Corio said. “From there, we plan to expand to other markets, such as Brazil.”

Albuquerque-based Unirac Inc., which makes mounting platforms for solar systems at an 80,000-square-foot factory at the Springer Industrial Park on Broadway NE near Downtown, is also opening an office in Mexico.

“The Latin American market is starting to open up, so we want to develop a sustainable presence there,” said Unirac President and CEO Peter Lorenz. “We just hired a country manager for Mexico, but we’re looking at all of Latin America now, and we’re investing heavily on the sales side.”

Unirac is also selling heavily into the Japanese and Chinese markets, where demand is growing, Lorenz said.

Robust U.S. demand

But manufacturers remain primarily focused on the U.S. market, where robust demand has offset declines in recession-strapped Europe.

For example, P4Q USA Inc. – a Spanish electronics manufacturer that opened a 9,000-square-foot facility in Albuquerque last year to make solar-tracking controllers and other devices – is gearing up for rapid growth in U.S. sales in 2014, said P4Q Executive Director Michael Orshan.

The company, which launched in 2002, sells about 100 MW annually of solar-tracking controllers worldwide, including about 20 MW in the U.S. this year. But it expects to sell five to six times that amount in the U.S. next year.

“We’re seeing extremely rapid progress in the U.S. market,” Orshan said. “We project between 100 and 120 MW of sales here in 2014. We’re expecting an explosive year.”

Apart from solar-component manufacturers, New Mexico’s PV installation companies also are having a good year.

Local companies say the New Mexico market remains robust, thanks in good part to the continuing decline in prices for PV systems. The cost for a fully installed system has dropped on average by about 40 percent since early 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Local business boost

Two of the state’s largest installers, Albuquerque-based Affordable Solar Group and Consolidated Solar Technologies, report double-digit growth this year.

Affordable has experienced particularly hefty sales since the spring, thanks to a new solar lease program it launched last April that allows homeowners to install solar systems for 25 years with no upfront costs, said Affordable’s general manager, Ryan Centerwall.

“We’ve had record sales over the last three months, with 50 percent more sales than any other three-month period during the last four years,” Centerwall said. “We attribute that principally to the lease program.”

Consolidated Solar, meanwhile, does not offer a lease program. But even so, the company projects 33 percent growth in residential sales this year.

“The business outlook is still very good,” said owner Jerry Mosher. “We’re very pleased.”

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