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Thompson completes second winery system, expects $20 million sales

NOVATO – SPG Solar Inc. spinoff Thompson Technology Inc. expects revenues to climb from $7 million in 2007 to more than $20 million in 2009, driven in part by its floating systems.

Fueling the growth of the 2-year-old company is its patent-pending Floatovoltaic solar array, the first in the world designed to rest on water treatment ponds, holding tanks, catch basins and certain reservoirs and lakes.

“Any body of water that requires pumping is eligible, including the entire California water system,” said Thompson Technology founder Dan Thompson.

TTI and its sister company SPG just completed its second floating winery system – Far Niente in Napa was the first – at Gundlach Bundschu winery in the Sonoma Valley.

Along with a ground-mounted 80-kilowatt system that provides 60 percent of the winery’s energy needs, the Floatovoltaic 30-kilowatt system installed on one of the winery’s water reclamation ponds provides 100 percent of the power used for the entire reclamation system.

“The cost of running the system will drop from $650 a month to range between zero to $200 a year,” said Mr. Thompson.

Gundlach Bundschu recycles 70 percent of the water used by the winery for use in the vineyard. Now, TTI is putting out proposals to water districts. The Stockton water district will most likely be the first to adapt the technology.

SPG bid on a ground-mounted installation for a North Bay water district but lost out to another company.

“When the story poles [stakes that indicate the eventual height of the installation] went up, the neighbors were really miffed about how obtrusive the panels would be. We’re going back to pitch the Floatovoltaic system. It rises only a few inches above the water and doesn’t block any views,” said Mr. Thompson.

The cost of property in California is a deterrent to sizable, ground-mounted systems, which can occupy several acres. Gundlach Bundschu pulled out 1.3 acres of pinot noir vines, the equivalent of $70,000 worth of bottled wine, for its separate ground solar system.

Floatovoltaic installations can go into empty catch basins or onto land that’s subject to floods. The technology, basically an interface between a docking system and a solar mount, is similar in cost to a carport installation, about 15 percent higher than a ground-mounted system.

“We’ve been tweaking it to reduce the cost,” said Mr. Thompson. So far there are no competing systems, and TTI has been receiving attention from Spain, Germany and especially South Korea, where SPG has strong partnerships.

South Korea has an abundance of ponds, and land there is extremely valuable, he said. “We’re well positioned to get a leap on the market worldwide.

We have our own engineers at TTI to design the floatation technology, SPG’s solar technology to integrate with it and SPG’s installers to put it in place. That’s not an easy process to imitate.”

TTI also makes sun tracking systems, also patent-pending, and rooftop and rail mounting systems.

Photon International magazine recently referred to TTI as “a largely unknown but major player in Europe and ... Asia. TTI’s uniaxial SunSeeker systems are being used in one of the world’s largest PV power plants – a system with nearly 20 MW under construction near Seoul by SunTechnics on behalf of South Korean construction company Dongyang Engineering & Construction Corp.”

Mr. Thompson founded TTI as an additional revenue source when solar panels were in short supply.

“Diversity is key to maintain growth in a market with frequent ups and downs. Now panels are in oversupply, but people are reluctant to invest.”

Mr. Thompson believes the coming months will see a shakeout in the solar industry, especially among investor-funded newcomers who don’t have a strong background in solar technology.

“Those companies were hurt by the delay in extending the Federal tax credits. We were hurt too. TTI didn’t make its projected $10 million last year. But we’re in good shape. We’ve met all our deadlines, and we’re on track to make our projected $20 million in 2009,” he said.

For more information, visit www.thompsontec.com.