March 5, 2021

2 More Solar Companies Get U.S. Loan Backing

The department will announce Thursday that it has completed a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, a company with a new way to make the silicon wafers used in solar cells. The company, based in Lexington, Mass., is the star pupil of the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, or ARPA-E, which makes grants to entities with radical ideas with great potential value; 1366 appears well on the way to being the first of the project recipients to reach commercial application.

The company casts the wafers from molten silicon, cutting costs in half. The conventional method is to slice the wafers from a big block, turning half the silicon into dust. While Solyndra, the company that filed for bankruptcy, tried to sell a markedly different product, 1366 offers a commodity product made in a different way with lower production costs.

Jonathan M. Silver, the head of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, said, “It’s a process innovation, not a product innovation. They can produce silicon wafers with much less material and many fewer steps.”

The price at which 1366 will sell its product is not clear, but Mr. Silver said he expected the company to continue to drive down the market price of solar cells.

On Wednesday, the department announced a guarantee for 80 percent of a $344 million private loan to be taken out by SolarCity, which installs and owns rooftop solar systems and sells the electricity generated by them.

The company plans to operate up to 160,000 rooftop installations at military bases around the country, mostly on apartment buildings and houses. That would be a huge expansion of rooftop solar systems; there are nearly 160,000 residential and nonresidential installations in the United States today.

SolarCity said the plan would create about 750 construction jobs over five years. The company intends to employ veterans or relatives of active-duty personnel to do much of the work, at up to 124 military bases in 33 states. SolarCity said it would install 371 megawatts of generating capacity.

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