We recently caught up with Karl Unterschuetz, director of business development for U.S. panel manufacturer Itek Energy. The company has been around since 2011 and has two manufacturing facilities—one in Bellingham, Washington, and another in Minneapolis, Minnesota—producing monocrystalline modules. Itek Energy will be exhibiting at Solar Power International this year, Booth No. 2147.
What’s the capacity of your manufacturing lines?
Itek’s new Bellingham facility will go into operation in September, bringing our total capacity to 200 MW per year.
Who are your customers?
We mainly serve residential and commercial installers, and we also do special custom projects. Our strongest markets are Washington and Minnesota with rapidly growing markets across the United States.
What’s it like being a manufacturer in Washington and Minnesota? How are the solar communities in these areas?
Both Washington and Minnesota have wonderful solar communities. Our growth and success is in large part due to the partnerships and support we have had in these solar communities. Both communities know that we are committed to supporting the growth of solar on both a local and a national level—it’s really why we got into this in the first place. Our founder John Flanagan started Itek Energy in 2011 because he was, and remains, deeply concerned over climate change. Itek is the fruit of that. Being able to personally connect with other solar advocates in the community and to offer them a product that is well-made and local is a central component of Itek’s vision.
What types of panels does Itek have available to the U.S. market today?
Itek is building and selling PERC monocrystalline 300-W, 60-cell modules with either white or black backsheets. Starting in October 2017, we will have 360-W, 72-cell modules available from our new Bellingham facility.
What do you think about the American solar panel market now with Suniva and SolarWorld exiting?
The U.S. solar market will continue to grow over the next few years. It may see some short-term fluctuations, but the long-term forecast we are working with is for steady, robust growth. Solar just makes sense, and more people here in the United States are catching on to that.
Will Itek take advantage of the big American-made hole now in the industry?
Itek is expanding at just the right time. With our new facility coming on line, we are positioning ourselves to be able to support the growing need for American-made modules. That being said, Itek’s business model is built on long-term, steady, organic growth, which is the best way to ride out the “solar coaster.” Although the short-term surges may take up a lot of our immediate attention, it is not likely to change our long-range development plan.
What are you always working on in R&D?
We consider both efficiency and aesthetics when developing new products. Part of our challenge is to balance these demands and integrate them into a product that appeals on both levels, and I think that we do a good job of that.
R&D is a growing part of our business, and we have been working with partners here in the United States to deploy solar generation in unique applications. Different than any other renewable energy technology, solar can be scaled down to small and very small distributed applications. As we are able to reduce the price of high efficiency solar modules, new ways of deploying solar become economically viable.
What’s the next advancement for solar panels?
We believe the next advancement for solar panels will be smart capabilities. The Itek Smart Module is one of a new wave of solar innovation that uses junction boxes with various integrated functions like optimization to maximize energy harvest. This and other integrated features give installers more room to play with array design, home and business owners greater energy yield and everyone peace of mind with integrated safety and monitoring functions.
What can the U.S. market expect from Itek for the rest of 2017 and the future?
In the next month, we will begin production on high-power, five-busbar modules, both 60-cell and (for the first time) 72-cell. Our new modules are also capable of supporting smart functionalities by utilizing Tigo Energy’s TS4 platform-integrated j-boxes.
We will be at SPI in Las Vegas this year. Come visit us at booth No. 2147!