Last week, I was one of about 27,000 attendees at the Solar Power International conference and expo, held Oct. 12-14 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. With global demand for solar products doubling in the last year, according to SPI, the mood across the three exhibition floors was optimistic. "The market is just exploding," said Patrick Thompson, solar business unit leader for AGC Glass Co., with North American headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga. "In the United States, the market is being driven by three factors. One, proximity to growing U.S. customer base. In solar, you can't wait for product to be shipped from overseas. Two, legislation. Three, the cost of the systems. The cost of solar is going down, while the cost of fossil fuels is going up. It's nearing cost competitiveness."
The expo hosted more than 1,100 exhibitors, up from 925 exhibitors at the show last year in Anaheim, Calif. Walking the floor, I saw a lot of familiar faces, and one thing became apparent—the glass industry has gone solar. From glass manufacturers to equipment suppliers to adhesive and film companies, glass industry companies are getting in the solar game. Below are some comments from glass industry representatives I met last week. You can also check out some photo galleries from the show.
Many of the glass industry exhibitors I visited had recently entered the solar market. The growth in solar coincided with the economic downturn and drop off in construction, providing a perfect opportunity for many industry companies to explore the market. Isra Solar Vision, Duluth, Ga., began targeting the solar industry "when the economy went into a slide three years ago," said Robert Shepherd, sales manager of the optical inspection equipment supplier. "We had the technology. We just had to tweak a couple of systems to be specific to solar."
"We've seen tremendous growth in solar," said Patrick Martens, western states territory manager, renewable energy, for Adco Solar, Michigan Center, Mich. "We've been involved in solar for three years, and we were well positioned to get into the market, as we have a background in roofing adhesives, and in insulating glass adhesives. We know how to keep moisture out."
Deepak Hariharan, business manager, Adhesives Research Electronics Business, Glen Rock, Pa., says his company has been involved in solar for about five years, supplying its tapes and adhesive products. Hariharan says that, while the products are similar to those it supplies for the insulating glass industry—both have longevity requirements—solar products have to be able to withstand direct exposure to ultraviolet light.
H.B. Fuller Co., St. Paul, Minn., is also a recent entrant in the solar market. The company has been involved in solar for three years, taking its expertise of the insulating glass industry and bringing it over to solar. "There are many similar concepts between insulating glass sealants and sealants required for solar," said Heidi Hoglund, senior chemist for H.B. Fuller's Global Window Business.
Glass cutting and handling equipment supplier Hegla Corp., with North American headquarters in Forest Park, Ga., displayed at SPI for the second year. "We've been in the solar industry for five years," said Thomas Bechill, sales manager. Several of Hegla's machines for the solar industry are scaled down versions of its machines for the glass industry, as solar panels are generally smaller than architectural glass lites, he said.
Tekna USA Corp., an aluminum processing machinery company with North American headquarters in Crystal Lake, Ill., has been aggressively targeting the solar industry for a few years, said Giovanni Barbareschi. "With the economy down for the other segments, we're focusing on solar," he said. "Our subsidiary in Spain has been supplying lines for [photovoltaic] for two or three years." Tekna supplies machines for both solar panel frames and racking systems.
I spoke with several other companies on the show floor that have a much longer history in solar, including AGC Glass Co., Japan. "AFG has made products for solar for 30-plus years," said Gus Trupiano, solar market development manager for AGC Solar. AGC had a range of solar products on display, including photovoltaic cover glass, glass substrates with TCO film for thin film applications, fluoropolymer film for backing sheets and sputtering targets for electrodes.
Dow Corning, Midland, Mich., a first-time exhibitor at SPI, has also "had a hand in solar for a long time," said Donald Buchalski, senior marketing specialist, PV module assembly, Solar Business Unit. "We did work 25 years ago with BP Solar." Dow Corning showed its range of solar products, from solar encapsulants to sealants and adhesives.
C.R. Laurence Co., Los Angeles, has been in the solar business for about 15 years, but has upped its involvement since solar demand has increased in recent years, according to John Czopek, machinery brand manager. CRL offers a range of products for the solar industry, many of which are the same as or similar to product it supplies for the glass industry, including installation and handling equipment, sealants, and machinery and equipment.
Madico, Woburn, Mass., a window and specialty film supplier, entered the solar market in about 1990, said John Storms, senior sales manager. "Now over half of our business is in solar," he said. "The market really took off in the last year." Madico supplies films for the backsheet of solar panels.
Next year, SPI is heading to Dallas, Oct. 17-20 at the Dallas Convention Center, and I expect the glass industry presence to be even larger. Will you be there?
--By Katy Devlin, associate editor