Mark Chen is the director of marketing at Abound Solar, a Colorado-based manufacturer of thin-film cadmium telluride solar modules. Cleantechies sat him on the hot seat for three questions:
CleanTechies: Unlike many photovoltaic (PV) companies, you are manufacturing in the United States. Tell me about the company’s decision to do that.
Mark Chen: Abound Solar was founded in Colorado in 2007 based on research conducted at Colorado State University for over 15 years. Abound Solar’s manufacturing technology features a continuous semiconductor deposition process on a fully-automated production line. Our geographic roots and low labor content allow us to be competitive despite higher hour wages in the United States
CleachTechies: Can the United States compete with China’s photovoltaic industry? What advantages do you offer?
Mark Chen: Chinese manufacturers are highly competitive in the global market. Their growing production scale, cost advantages and domestic market place pressure on U.S. and European manufacturers alike. U.S.-based PV manufacturers can compete with innovation and customer intimacy.
Manufacturers, including Abound Solar, SunPower and First Solar are leading in their respective market segments through cutting-edge products that offer higher performance, higher quality and lower cost. Sometimes this includes strategic use of offshore production, but all have hundreds of key employees based in the United States. Abound Solar’s unique advantage is in producing at lower cost while also partnering with our customers to ensure high-performing PV installations are designed and constructed.
CleanTechies: What are the barriers to PV that you’re encountering with commercial installs?
Mark Chen: The primary barriers to widespread penetration of commercial PV that we face are lack of financing, complexity of regulation and permitting and lack of understanding of various PV technologies.
With banks reducing the amount of credit made available, particularly to owners of large property developers (i.e., retail stores and commercial real estate developers), sources of finance for large-scale systems can often be the single, most important barrier to greater usage of PV.
Secondly, a highly-fragmented and heterogeneous system of incentives and regulations increase the complexity of any system design and installation. Owners often misunderstand the wealth of incentives available to them. Project developers can also be held up by local permitting and utility interconnect regulations.
Lastly, many PV system buyers still do not buy from a basis of knowledge and experience. There is no Consumer Reports of solar. Instead, they tend to buy either solely on upfront cost or efficiency, neither of which are good measures on which to depend. They should be looking at the full system, the quality and reputation of the component manufacturers and calculating the full long term cost of the electricity that will be produced.