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Green companies answer call for investments

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College of the Desert students assemble the solar trough training project using Gossamer Frames equipment.

Photo: College of the Desert

​Glenn Reynolds, president of Gossamer Space Frames, likes to tell the story about the day Larry McLaughlin called to recruit help for a utility-scale solar energy training class at College of the Desert (COD) in California.

“I hung up the phone and said, ‘Wow, do we really want to do this?’” Reynolds said.

The small but growing Huntington Beach operation had just wrapped up its first major solar thermal parabolic trough project, the 68-megawatt Nevada Solar One facility in Boulder City, Nev.

“We had designed four more just like it in Spain,’’ Reynolds said. “We were coming off a 75-megawatt project in Florida, and were about to wrap up our next generation of solar power products. There was plenty on our plate.”

Turning a desert into 'green' gold

But McLaughlin had a sense of urgency. The director of COD’s Advanced Transportation Technology & Energy Center told Reynolds he knew Gossamer Space Frames was working on concentrated solar power systems, and he wanted the company to help teach students how to build, run and maintain this type of utility-scale solar energy system.

Dean Hackbarth, a principal and co-founder of the company, and Reynolds agreed to get on board. From that point, the project took on steam. As Gossamer designed the frame and engineered the pylons and concrete foundation, McLaughlin was plugged into an array of solar industry providers:

Reynolds said he has been impressed with COD’s focus on renewable energy education, which includes wind and concentrated solar power.

“There are places that have co-op arrangements with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and major universities that do research, development and testing,’’ Reynolds said. “This is different: Academia is keeping pace with renewable energy technologies to supply a competent and enlightened workforce.”

For Robert Vandal, Guardian’s vice president of product engineering, the donation offers the solar industry one significant payback: Knowing students are being properly trained.

For a privately held company like Guardian, which posts $5.5 billion in sales a year, Vandal said installers have to know how to handle the fragile, laminated glass mirrors and align them properly.

“In this industry, if your system does not work properly from Day 1 and show very well, it can kill a company overnight,’’ he said.

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