Solar market thriving in spite of credit crunch

The solar market has continued to escape the clutches of the credit crunch this week, with a series of positive announcements underlining the strength of the sector.

Solar thermal technology specialist Ausra led the good news for manufacturers, announcing that it has received $60.6m funding from KERN Partners, Generation Investment Management, Starfish Ventures and founding investors Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Ausra is one of the pioneers of Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) technology that uses mirror arrays to concentrate the sun's rays on a central receiver, boiling water and driving a turbine.

The company's first commercial CLFR project in Australia is currently being expanded, while the firm is also developing a 177MW plant for Pacific Gas and Electric Company in central California.

Meanwhile, China-based solar panel giant Suntech Power Holdings said today that it plans to triple its sales to the US next year.

To underpin this growth the company has just acquired California-based commercial solar integration company EI Solutions and formed a joint venture with Baltimore's MMA Renewable Ventures to develop, large-scale photovoltaic projects in the US.

"We see the US market as on the cusp of enormous growth," said Steven Chan, chief strategy officer of Suntech, in a statement.

And in related news, Moser Baer India announced that it had signed agreements with a number of German-based companies including Ralos Vertriebs and Colexon Energy to provide $500m worth of silicon thin film panels until 2012.

"The signing of these key customer contracts is further indication of the rapid growth of our photovoltaic business and the faith of our customers in the thin film technology," said chief executive Ravi Khanna.

Falling component costs, government incentives and a high oil price have all helped to boost the fortunes of the solar industry.

Demand from Europe, especially Spain Italy and Germany, has been particularly strong and current projections see the market growing from $40bn this year to $50-70bn by 2010.

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