Image: Solar thermal receiver tubes
Susan Montoya Bryan  /  AP
These solar thermal receiver tubes were produced at Schott Solar's new manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, N.M.
updated 5/12/2009 12:18:11 PM ET 2009-05-12T16:18:11

Schott Solar has formally dedicated its flagship U.S. manufacturing plant — the first in the world capable of producing both photovoltaic panels for homes and businesses and thermal receivers for large-scale solar power plants.

The latter are for a growing industry segment: solar thermal farms that use huge parabolic mirrors to harness the sun. The receivers sit at the focal point of the mirrors. Fluid inside the receivers is heated and then flows to a heat exchanger, which creates steam. The steam spins a turbine, creating energy with no carbon emissions.

Company officials and state leaders see the plant as a model as the nation looks to expand renewable energy production and curb emissions from electricity generation.

Udo Ungeheuer, chairman of the board of management for German-based Schott AG, told the crowd gathered at Monday's dedication that he's confident the U.S. can become a "solar superpower" with the help of companies like Schott and policies that encourage the use of a domestic renewable resource that's not subject to the same price fluctuations as fossil fuels.

"At Schott Solar, we view the United States as a sleeping giant when it comes to solar energy," he said, explaining that enough of the sun's rays hit the nation every day to meet the world's energy demands for an entire year.

It was only a year ago that Schott Solar announced it would build the 200,000-square-foot plant on the city's southern edge. As one of the company's largest operations in the U.S., the plant has hired more than 300 workers and plans to be operating at full capacity in the next two months.

Schott has invested more than $100 million in the local economy with the construction of the plant and plans to quadruple its size and work force over the long term with additional investments of up to $400 million.

'New visions and clean energy'
Gov. Bill Richardson said the investment bodes well for New Mexico's efforts to attract other companies, particularly those involved in the advancement of renewable energy.

"This is not just another opening of a business coming to New Mexico," the governor said. "This is probably the highlight of our efforts to attract new visions and clean energy to our state."

State officials said they are ecstatic about Schott's success given that other companies have been forced to postpone projects and lay off workers in recent months due to the economy. Schott planned and financed the new plant long before the economic downturn.

Diplomats and other guests toured the plant Friday as workers inspected materials and large robotic arms moved solar panels and receiver tubes made of specially coated glass and steel through the production process.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, watched as workers prepared some of the solar panels for shipping at the end of the production line. He called the high-tech process amazing, saying the state's work to offer incentives to companies like Schott is beginning to pay off.

"This is a dream that we have had, to make New Mexico a leader in renewable energy. For it to become a reality is really satisfying," Lujan said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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