October 11, 2011

Solar Technology Is Budding Trend

By: Yael Goldman

Source: Saratoga Today

SARATOGA COUNTY- As the nanotechnology industry continues to grow in our region, another high-tech sphere is beginning to sprout. Experts at the SUNY Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CS) say that photovoltaic technology, an industry that shares aspects of its supply chain with semiconductor manufacturing, is the ancillary trend that will bring the next economic boost to the Capital Region.

Here in Saratoga County, where the GlobalFoundries spinoff effect is already quite prevalent, signs of solar are beginning to appear. Last week, we learned that Moncada Energy USA, an Italian-based leader in renewable energy, is eyeing the International Paper (IP) site in Corinth for a new solar panel manufacturing facility. Moncada would expand to Corinth as part of a package deal with Waste Connections, a waste management company that would operate an existing landfill.

A deal has not yet been made, but if the pair does decide to establish in Corinth, Moncada will bring 100 jobs to the area. "If we can get the jobs, it would be a huge win for the region - Corinth and Saratoga County," said Shelby Schneider, director of marketing and economic development specialist for Saratoga County Economic Development Corporation. "There is a lot going on in terms of building the solar tech ecosystem in [our] region and the state, and it could be very beneficial to have them here."

Much like the entities that support semiconductor activity for companies like GlobalFoundries, the ecosystem for the solar industry includes everything from manufacturers, suppliers and consumers to educational programs, research and development, and workforce preparation.

"When we talk about an ecosystem, we talk about having all of the resources available to build a successful industry," said Dr. Pradeep Haldar, head of the Nanoengineering Constellation at CNSE. "In the nanotech space, we nurture every aspect of the ecosystem."

Haldar specializes in alternate energy technologies, specifically solar energy and advanced photovoltaics.

He explained that CNSE caters to companies across the spectrum - from those that are manufacturing and selling, like GlobalFoundries, to IBM, which is an end-user. The plan is to parallel the nanotech success story with a similar application in solar. "Just like the Capital Region has become the center of the universe in nanotechnology, we are at the very early stages of doing the same sort of thing in the solar industry as well," Haldar said.

For starters, CNSE is host to the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, a partnership between SEMATECH and the University of Central Florida. Over 80 companies, universities and high-tech laboratories have committed to join the alliance that will provide a major boost to the United States' photovoltaic manufacturing industry. The consortium has received over $400 million in funding to start the process of building the ecosystem through research and development.

What's more, CNSE isn't the only common denominator between the Nanotechnology and developing solar ecosystem. The two industries share major components of a supply chain that is growing significantly in our region. In the past few weeks alone, a handful of major developments point to the region's progression in becoming a high-tech hub.

Linuo Solar Group Co. announced September 23 plans to invest $100 million in solar manufacturing out of a 160-acre site in East Fishkill. Also, at the end of September, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that five leading high-tech firms, together called the Global450 consortium, have made a $4.4 billion investment in developing advanced computer chip technology in New York State.

IBM, Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., GlobalFoundriesInc. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. will work together, sharing resources, to develop 450-milimeter wafers. Then there's the possibility of Moncada coming to Corinth.

Plus, Haldar said there are quite a few solar suppliers and manufacturers eyeing Saratoga County - he's just not ready to talk about them. "I think we are definitely a promising region," Haldar said. And where there's promise of industry development, there are also career prospects for bright, talented students.

Just ask Nick Alexander, a 2005 Shenendehowa grad and Ballston Lake resident who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nanoengineering with Dr. Haldar at CNSE. Alexander is in his third year researching solar technology, and he wants to stick around after graduation.

"With everything coming into this area, I don't think there's a student who cannot find a job in the Capital Region," he said.