Schott on target to open sun belt solar plant

German high-tech glass giant Schott AG is defying the current economic uncertainty and is on schedule to open its new solar manufacturing plant at Mesa del Sol south of Albuquerque, New Mexico in spri…

German high-tech glass giant Schott AG is defying the current economic uncertainty and is on schedule to open its new solar manufacturing plant at Mesa del Sol south of Albuquerque, New Mexico in spring 2009, creating 350 jobs in the process, company officials said. The 23,225 square meters of building space being erected at the site include two adjacent manufacturing plants to make equipment for two different types of devices used to generate solar power. Schott has already hired about 100 workers, most of them locals, who have been traveling to Europe to train in the company“s existing manufacturing operations, said Zane Rakes, a former Intel manager who joined in summer 2008 to head Schott“s Albuquerque operations. When the plants are operational in spring 2009, Schott expects to employ 350 people here, Mr. Rakes said. Schott, already a major player in the European solar industry, wanted a plant in the United States to serve the growing sun belt solar energy market, he said. “Albuquerque is the finest large-scale manufacturing center that Schott“s going to have in the United States”, Mr. Rakes said in an interview. The plant“s products will take advantage of a growing set of tax and other government incentives at the state and federal level intended to encourage the development of renewable energy sources in the United States. Solar energy currently makes up just 1% of US electricity supply but it is one of the fastest growing sources, increasing 35% in the last year, according to the federal government“s Energy Information Agency. One of the plants will assemble 3-foot-by-5-foot (0.9 meter by 1.5 meter) rooftop solar panels that generate electric using traditional photovoltaic technology. The plant will take smaller silicon cells manufactured at a Schott plant in Germany and assemble them into completed panels ready to be plugged into a power system, Rakes explained. The second Schott Albuquerque factory building will build components used in concentrating solar power plants. Called “parabolic trough collectors”, the plants use U-shaped mirrors to focus sunlight on a central pipe, heating a fluid that is then pumped through turbines to generate electricity. Schott“s Albuquerque plant will make the specialized pipes that run along the center of the U-shaped trough. The company uses a proprietary process to join the inner steel pipe carrying the fluid to an outer layer of high-tech glass. The glass and steel pipe has to withstand being heated daily to 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees centigrade), then cooling to ambient temperatures at night, Mr. Rakes explained. In addition to the benefits provided by tax incentives and other renewable energy requirements that are easing the expansion of the solar market, Schott has also benefitted from local government incentives to build the plant. The state of New Mexico provided USD 1.9 million in job training funds in June 2008, and in November the city of Albuquerque approved USD 1 million in infrastructure improvements, including road work, for the firm.