Department of Energy

Sensible Solar Fueling Energy Revolution in Georgia

May 14, 2010

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During his recent commencement address at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Energy Secretary Steven Chu hailed the ingenuity of the engineers responsible for the Industrial Revolution. He noted, however, that the carbon emissions from that pivotal era have caused the world’s climate to change drastically.

“More frequent heat waves and increased water stress in many areas of the world are predicted,” he said. “Rising sea levels and the severity of hurricanes and cyclones will threaten low-lying coastal areas. The climate will change so rapidly that many species, including many people, will have a hard time adapting.”

Chu also described a second industrial revolution that is building America’s clean energy economy. Part of this revolution is powered by a company born right at Georgia Tech — Suniva. The company’s goal is to manufacture solar technology with low-cost techniques that make solar-generated electricity cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Or, as Suniva says in its slogan, it’s “the brilliance of solar made sensible.” With enough carbon-free technologies deployed and powering the country, we may not have to witness the dire situations Chu described.

Suniva was founded by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi, and the company evolved from the University Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics at GT, which has become a premier site for silicon PV research in the U.S. The center has received longstanding support from the U.S. Department of Energy and has become a real American success story.

“We’ve expanded production more than 200 percent, resulting in hundreds of direct and indirect jobs in the U.S.,” Bryan Ashley, chief marketing officer at Suniva, says.

Suniva is the only manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells and modules that hires American workers and uses American technology. “We are actually making the cells in the U.S. and not offshore,” Bryan says.

The company has created more than 150 clean energy jobs. Fifty of those jobs are the direct result of a clean energy tax credit that was part of the Recovery Act. Bryan says the future of American energy lies in greater usage of renewables.

“Solar PV has no emissions of any kind, doesn’t use water, doesn’t create noise, has no waste and has flexibility in its size, along with a free source of energy from the sun,” he says. “It provides the most power when it is needed the most and can strengthen the grid.”

America pioneered solar PV technology, and, as recently as the mid-1990s, had about 45 percent of the world market share — that has since slipped away to about 5 percent.

“The U.S. needs to jump back into the clean energy race and play to win,” Chu wrote in a recent White House blog post, just before delivering GT’s commencement address. “That is the work we have started with investments like the Recovery Act and companies like Suniva.”