This year will see a boom in large-scale solar thermal projects.Photo: International RiversThe rapidly growing photovoltaic industry has spawned thousands of jobs for people who design, make, and install rooftop solar arrays for homes and businesses. But the smaller solar thermal business is also set to boom in the United States, according to a new government report [PDF].
Solar thermal products come in all sizes -- from rooftop panels that absorb the sun's rays to heat swimming pools and provide hot water for homes to huge mirror arrays that heat liquids to create steam to drive electricity-generating turbines at solar power plants.
Employment in the solar thermal collector industry jumped 22 percent in 2009 from the previous year, said the report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number of solar thermal companies increased by 19 percent.
It's still a small industry, with revenues in 2009 reaching $96.7 million, a 19 percent spike from the previous year. At the same time, total shipments of solar thermal products fell nearly 19 percent.
That's because swimming pool products accounted for 73 percent of the industry in '09. But that's poised to change, as developers are set to break ground on several large-scale solar thermal power plants in the desert Southwest this year.
Those projects will deploy tens of thousands of mirrors, solar troughs, and other components. California alone in recent months has licensed solar thermal plants that would generate more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity -- that will heat a whole lotta swimming pools.
German solar manufacturer Schott, for example, has built a solar thermal component factory in Arizona to supply projects in the Southwest, and other manufacturing facilities are planned for the region.
Grist also has a report on a big new solar PV plant in the strange new Chinese region of Ordos - Deal signed in big China solar project.
The world's largest photovoltaic project is finally moving forward in China.
Back in September 2009, First Solar, the Tempe, Ariz., thin-film solar module maker and developer, announced that it had struck a deal to build a massive 2,000-megawatt solar power plant complex in the Ordos region of Inner Mongolia.
Then, as often is the case when such big projects are unveiled with great fanfare, nothing much happened for a long while as the nitty-gritty financial details were worked out and First Solar grappled with Chinese bureaucracy.
But on Monday, First Solar said it had struck an agreement with the China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Company (CGN SEDC) to build the first 30-megawatt phase of the two-gigawatt project. According to the original announcement, the full project is to be completed by 201