PowerLight Finds New Richmond Home

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 20, 2007

PowerLight, a large-scale solar power system provider, announced last week that it would move out of Berkeley to the historic site of the former Ford Motor Company in Richmond.  

The company, which serves global as well as domestic markets, is now located in three separate spaces in West Berkeley, including the Heinz Building at 2954 San Pablo Ave. It will consolidate in the 175,000 square feet available in Richmond. The move is slated for the end of the year. 

“We are delighted that this icon of 20th century industrial production will become a beacon for 21st century clean, green technology,” said Tom Dinwoodie, PowerLight’s chief executive officer, referring to the Ford Plant in a press statement. Dinwoodie was out of the country and unavailable for comment in person. 

PowerLight was purchased in January by San Jose-based SunPower Corporation for about $330 million. SunPower is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., also based in San Jose. 

“It was very important for PowerLight to have everyone under one roof,” said Economic Development Manager Dave Fogarty, noting that Berkeley does not have large spaces available like those in Richmond.  

“It is normal for the company to move,” he said, adding that he thinks vacancies that will be created will not be hard to fill and “no one will lose their jobs.” 

Gary Gerber, CEO of Berkeley-based Sun Light & Power, specializing in solar electricity and solar hot water systems and not a competitor with PowerLight, which serves a larger global market, spoke to the Planet about the state of the solar industry. 

A factor that Gerber said hurt the local smaller solar industry in recent years is that large companies have bought up the global stock of solar modules to use in Europe, particularly in Germany, where over several years, there was a 40-50 percent growth in demand for solar installations. 

“Companies like PowerLight made it a problem for us,” Gerber said. “There were gigantic projects in Germany, sucking up all the modules.” 

Gerber further noted, however, that the demand in Germany was flat last year and modules are once again available at lower prices. 

Local demand for solar energy has been growing due to a number of factors, including California’s rebate program, federal energy tax credits, an increasing awareness of the hazards of global warming and increases in the cost of electricity from PG&E, Gerber said.