Project Brightfield: Chevron Launches Solar Test Bed

Oil giant Chevron (s CVX) has an itch to test out early stage solar technology. This morning Chevron plans to show off a solar test bed in Bakersfield, Calif., dubbed Project Brightfield, that will use seven “emerging pre-commercial” solar photovoltaic technologies. The companies providing the technology range from massive corporation to small startups, and include: Sharp, Abound Solar, Miasole, Schuco, Solar Frontier, Solibro and Innovalight.

Project Brightfield, a 740 kW project with 7,700 solar panels, will be built on an 8-acre dirt plot where Chevron formerly ran a refinery that belched out gasoline and asphalt. Chevron’s solar testbed news comes on the heels of the oil giant announcing last month that it will build a 1 MW concentrating solar photovoltaic system on the tailing site of a mine in Questa, New Mexico using technology from Concentrix Solar, a Freiburg, Germany-based company.

Chevron, like the other oil giants that have dabbled in solar, remains largely in the early stages of testing out solar technology. Some oil companies are taking more aggressive stances than others. Oil giant BP invests just $10 million in solar photovoltaic research through its subsidiary BP Solar, reports the LA Times, but according to its 2009 annual report BP Solar sold 203 MW worth of solar panels last year.

Other oil firms don’t see a long-term future in solar. At the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference earlier this month Shell CEO Peter Voser explained Shell’s decision to exit the solar industry because, “We don’t see that being something we can scale.”

Here’s more details on the seven firms that Chevron has tapped for Project Brightfield:

Sharp: Japanese consumer electronics maker and solar giant Sharp has been working to boost its thin film solar manufacturing capacity six fold to reaching a goal of 1 gigawatt of production capacity by 2010. As early as 2014 Sharp is looking to deliver 6 gigawatts of thin film solar production. (Sharp also makes solar cells and the machines that make thin film solar equipment).

Miasolé: Santa, Clara, Calif.-based Miasole makes thin film solar tech from Copper Indium Gallium Selenide or (CIGS) and is providing 200 kW of power at Project Brightfield. MiaSolé says Brightfield is its first commercial project in California. Miasole just started shipping solar panels to customers in December and has raised at last $300 million in venture financing since its founding in 2001.

Innovalight: Founded in 2002, Innovalight makes photovoltaic silicon ink that can produce cells that can convert 18 percent of sunlight into electricity. The company is working with JA Solar, and raised a new round of $18 million in funding in January from EDB Investments (EDBI) of Singapore, Vertex Venture Holdings, the venture subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, Apax Partners, ARCH Venture Partners, Convexa Capital, Harris & Harris Group, Sevin Rosen Funds and Triton Ventures.

Solar Frontier: Solar Frontier is the subsidiary of Japanese oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu, and makes Copper Indium Selenide (CIS) modules. Formerly called Showa Shell Solar, the company is planning to spend $1.1 billion to build its third plant, according to the Cleantech Group, and has been working on the technology since 1993, and started producing CIS modules in 2006.

Abound Solar: Formerly AVA Solar, thin-film solar panel maker Abound Solar fired up its first full-scale factory in April 2009 after more than a decade of development at Colorado State University. Abound raised $104 million equity financing in 2008 from DCM, Technology Partners, GLG Partners, Bohemian Companies and Invus.

Schuco: German giant Shuco makes aluminum, steel and solar components, and has developed a U.S. presence over the past three years. Schuco showed off thin film solar technology at the U.S. Intersolar solar conference last year.

Solibro: A subsidiary of German solar cell giant Q-Cells, and is now called Q-Cells Modules, the company makes CIGS thin film solar. The company shipped its first products to customers in 2008 and expanded to 135 MW production in 2009.

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