Kickstart: Making the math work for solar investments

No longer a niche product for environmentalists, solar panels are increasingly showing up on factory roofs thanks to tax incentives and rising costs for traditional energy sources.

And the cost benefit analysis in favor of solar is growing by the day.

Consider the case of Emerald Packaging Inc., a California flexible packaging maker that will spend more than $3 million for rooftop solar panels at two buildings in Union City that will supply 50 percent of the power demand at one building and 25 percent of the energy for the smaller building.

“We’ve looked at solar for years and priced it out and it’s really never penciled out,” CEO Kevin Kelly told PN’s Jim Johnson. “In the last year, PG&E has raised rates 20 percent and there’s another 30 percent increase on the table for 2023. … It’s under three years at this point in terms of payback, which is utterly remarkable.”

Beyond rising energy costs, Emerald will benefit from state and federal tax incentives that will cover more than half the cost of the project.

So it’s no wonder that there are big investments on the way to make more solar panels in the U.S. South Korea-based Hanwha Qcells announced Jan. 11 it will spend $2.5 billion to build a new solar panel plant in Cartersville, Ga., about 50 miles from the plant it opened in 2019 in Dalton.

Hanwha pointed to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, signed in 2022 to support a transition to greener energy, as a big part of its reasoning for the expansion.

While most of the solar panels in production today rely on metal and glass, there are opportunities for plastics as well. That may mean film-based solar collectors that can replace traditional roof tiles or upgrading structural parts.

In 2021, LG Chem said it is targeting growth in solar through a new polycarbonate/ASA blend that can replace existing metal frames for panels. The plastic is half the weight of aluminum but with the same durability, the company said. The lighter weight decreases the weight of panels and improves convenience during transportation and installation.

Plastic outdoor furniture doesn’t have to be cheap or unstylish, a message that Poly-Wood LLC is attempting to make clear with an Atlanta showroom for its Polywood brand of furniture.

The 11,000-square-foot space will be part of a site “purpose-built to showcase design-driven outdoor living brands,” Syracuse, Ind.-based Poly-Wood said in a news release.

Poly-Wood uses recycled plastics that would otherwise end up in landfills or potentially in the ocean.

The company also is launching a new Martha Stewart by Polywood Chinoiserie Collection that will be featured at the Atlanta showroom. The furniture emphasizes design elements rather than plastics sustainability, with pieces priced at $399 for an outdoor rocking chair to $2,649 for a seven-piece outdoor dining set.