By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
MARYSVILLE — Rainy, gray Western Washington may seem an odd location for a solar energy business. But one of the top manufacturers of world-class solar photovoltaic (PV) modules is actually headquartered in a business park in Marysville.
Silicon Energy was the first solar module manufacturer in Washington state. The company stands out among the competition for offering customers an almost-unheard-of 30-year power warranty on its systems.
“We’re one of the best in the world at doing this and we’re very proud of that,” said Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver.
That’s not always the case in an industry that’s booming due to the growing number of federal and state incentives for consumer installation and the ready availability of cheap solar panels from China. Solar companies have popped up all over the U.S. ready to become Silicon Energy’s competition.
But that competition doesn’t worry Shaver at all. He knows that the high quality of his company’s products and the fact that their materials are almost all locally sourced swings the balance in his company’s favor.
Local sourcing is important to Shaver.
“We’re not anti-Chinese. We just want to take care of our village,” he said. “We look very hard for local manufacturers. If we can’t get a local manufacturer, we look for a distributor in Washington.”
The metal on the units is fabricated in Seattle. It’s powder coated in Arlington and the actual construction occurs in Marysville.
The difference between Silicon Energy’s panels and other solar panels is clear even to the untrained eye, which is why the company welcomes visitors to its showroom. Customers are able to compare competing products side by side.
Solar cells are extremely fragile and require sturdy encasement to prevent damage. The Silicon Energy modules are solid and resist movement. The competition’s panels show some give, suggesting that the solar cells inside maybe easily damaged under high wind or pressure.
Silicon Energy’s panels feature a double-glass construction. “It gives us amazing durability,” Shaver said. The glass panels are hermetically sealed against moisture. Moisture damage is the most common reason for solar panel failure.
In testing conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Silicon Energy’s modules proved to be the most durable modules tested. The laboratory put them through a simulated 80-year performance test and noted no measurable performance loss. Some of the competition exhibited hot spotting and dead zones after a simulated 18 years.
“In almost four years now, we’re less than one percent failure rate in the field,” Shaver said.
Another feature unique to Silicon Energy is the frame design. Their Cascade model is essentially frameless. Water, snow or ice can easily slip off and there is no place for moss to gain a foothold between the frame and glass.
The sleek appearance of the modules, their ability to allow light to pass through along with the option to custom color the hardware means consumers have a lot more flexibility as to where they install their modules.
In addition to traditional roof installations, the modules can be ground mounted or used as patio covers, on carports or on boat docks. The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle incorporated them as a design feature in the roof of the carousel cover.
Wiring for the modules is routed inside the mounting hardware, not only for appearance but also for safety. Enclosed wiring prevents squirrel or rodent damage and reduces the hazard of electrical shock for those working around the system.
Safety is another focus for Silicon Energy. Nothing leaves the facility that hasn’t been tested and the modules have earned a high fire safety rating.
“We have the highest safety rating in the industry,” Shaver said.
Conscious of both safety and environmental impact, the company also ensures workers at the Marysville plant are exposed to no chemicals stronger than isopropyl alcohol, Shaver said. Water used to clean the modules has to be ultra cleaned itself prior to use in order to ensure a perfect hermetic seal. This means that water leaving the facility may actually be cleaner than it was when it came in.
Consumers in the Pacific Northwest are known for being environmentally conscious. In 2008, Seattle was named a Solar America City for its large number of solar installations. Despite the amount of rain received, the state actually receives more sunlight per year than Germany, the world’s solar energy leader.
With these statistics in mind, it’s not surprising that Washington should become home to a leading solar power manufacturer.
“And we’re not done yet,” Shaver said. “We’re just going to continue to march onwards and upwards.”
Learn more information about Silicon Energy at www.silicon-energy.com.