Solar PV Manufacturing Comes to Minnesota

Solar PV Manufacturing Comes to Minnesota

Two start-ups and a new incentive program mark the dawn of a new industry in the state.

Minnesota’s first manufacturer of solar electricity systems, TenKsolar, started production in June at its headquarters in Bloomington. Meanwhile, a Washington state company, Silicon Energy, was due to break ground for an Iron Range facility in late summer and begin manufacturing early next year.

Both are welcomed with a new rebate from Xcel Energy that rewards homeowners and businesses that install solar panels made in Minnesota.

TenKsolar, founded in 2008 by former Seagate engineer and executive Dallas Meyer, brings several innovations to electricity-generating solar photovoltaic systems. Most generate power only from direct sunlight. TenKsolar’s cells can use reflected light, and the wave-like structure of the company’s system includes a reflector panel on the back of each PV panel.

TenKsolar CEO Joel Cannon says that using indirect light and the fact that each panels’ solar cells are interconnected in an unconventional way enables his company’s system to produce up to 50 percent more energy per square foot of rooftop than a standard solar PV array does. He explains that most photovoltaic panels are wired like old Christmas lights, where one bad bulb throws off the entire string. Meyer’s technology for assembling solar cells in a “parallel matrix” gets around that problem. A shaded, dirty, or problem cell doesn’t constrain the flow of energy from other cells, because there are redundant circuits for that energy to travel. RAIS Wave, the system’s trademarked name, derives from “redundant array integrated solar.”

With 33 employees in Bloomington building RAIS Wave systems, and solar cell manufacturing done by a subsidiary in China, in early August TenKsolar was waiting only for Underwriters Laboratory safety certification in order to begin installing its product, and expected to get approval any day. RAIS Wave is already safety certified in Europe, where the company is exploring setting up another plant.

Xcel Energy, which launched a Solar Rewards rebate program last winter, added a Made in Minnesota rebate in July. Solar Rewards provides a one-time incentive of $2.25 per installed watt of solar generating capacity. The Made in Minnesota piggyback program brings the total incentive to as much as $5 per watt for anyone installing solar PV panels made in the state.