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Skyline Solar taps auto parts maker for power plant components

October 22, 2009 |  5:01 am

Rack Welding
Machines that used to stamp out car parts are now making arrays for solar panels. Credit: Skyline Solar.
Skyline Solar, a Silicon Valley start-up, has become the latest green energy company to tap the struggling auto industry’s manufacturing muscle.

The company announced today that components for its solar power plants were being made in a Troy, Mich., car factory operated by Cosma International, a division of auto manufacturing giant Magna International.

The same machines that stamp out doors, hoods and other car body parts are now making long metal arrays that hold Skyline’s photovoltaic panels.

“It’s literally just carving out a piece of an existing facility and putting through a product that for all intents and purposes could be a new make and model of the next family sedan,” said Bob MacDonald, Skyline’s chief executive.  “Every time there’s a new model year for a Ford Mustang, they have a tool and die set they put into this press. So you just have a different tool and die in there that forms a new shape for Skyline.”

The bottom line, said MacDonald, is that Skyline has slashed its capital costs by taking advantage of Cosma’s existing manufacturing capability. He said Skyline of Mountain View, Calif., has contracts in place for small-scale solar farms. He said he could not divulge the details of those contracts but noted that Skyline has begun to receive shipments of arrays from Michigan.

It’s also a good deal for Cosma, whose parent company has agreed to acquire Opel from General Motors.

“Renewable energy trends and forecast data suggest significant growth potential for this market -- we expect to participate in this growth potential,” Tracy Fuerst, a Magna spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Fuerst said the company was manufacturing components for other solar companies, which she declined to identify because of confidentiality agreements.

Skyline is not the first solar start-up to beat a path to the Motor City. In September, Stirling Energy Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., inked a contract with a Detroit-area company called Tower Automotive to make metal support structures for Stirling’s solar dishes.

The same month, solar panel and equipment makers agreed to set up shop in an abandoned Ford factory in Michigan.

 -- Todd Woody

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