Company helps people tap into sun's resources

February 18, 2011 3:35:25 PM PST
Solar panels help save energy and cut costs. Now a Chinese company says the panels will also create jobs in Illinois.

They expanded from China into the United States and have settled in nearby Rockford. Wanxiang New Energy is now the only company in the Midwest that manufactures solar panels. They say it's a growth industry that will help more local folks live green.

It's an intricate process.

"We take a piece of glass, wash it, make sure it's perfectly clean. Then we start soldering solar cells together," said Wanxiang's Brent Anderson.

Fragile solar cells are carefully connected to a ribbon of copper. Then a sheet of plastic is laid over it that's as tough as the material inside a bulletproof vest.

Next, it's all bonded in place with 350-degree heat.

"We test it throughout the process to make sure that it's going to have the specified power levels," said Anderson. "There are also some UL tests we have to do to make sure the panel is safe."

The final test is the sun simulator. It mimics the sun's light to make sure the panels are generating enough power.

Anderson is the operations manager at the one-year-old plant. He says, based on the volume of business the company does overseas, Wanxiang New Energy expects the industry here to grow rapidly.

"Right now we're in a 42,000-square-foot building, and within a five-year term, we plan on being about five acres under roof and producing about 180 megawatts with 300 employees," Anderson said.

Anderson says his employer is just a foreshadowing of what may be to come for business relationships between U.S. and China.

"The Chinese definitely want to invest in America," said Anderson. "They want to bring manufacturing back into America, because they realize that we are a consumer, that we buy products from China and they need to keep us healthy."

Wanxiang New Energy is a subsidiary of a much larger company that makes auto parts. The parent company's North American headquarters is located in Elgin.