Advent Solar A Manufacturer’s Commitment to Sustainability


[ By Mark Lautman ]

All Advent Solar photos by Patrick Coulie.


Advent Solar’s new building features sustainable design elements such as outdoor lighting fixtures that are shielded and downward-facing to preserve New Mexico’s dark sky while considering safety and the benefit of energy and financial savings.

Going from architectural drawings to production in fewer than 12 months is an amazing feat, made even more so when, at the start of construction on Advent Solar, there was no road, no utilities and no infrastructure.

In early 2005, Advent Solar, manufacturer of advanced technology solar cells and module photovoltaic solar cells, began searching for an expansion site for its headquarters and manufacturing facility. The company considered three other states besides New Mexico, deciding to locate to a new 12,000-plus-acre master planned development in Albuquerque called Mesa del Sol. Advent Solar said the Mesa del Sol location provides advantages in terms of future recruiting capability. The company moved into their 87,596-square-foot facility that contains both office and manufacturing space in October 2006, employing 165 employees now working four shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Home-Grown Innovation Spurs Development
Advent Solar’s cell design technology is known as Emitter-Wrap-Through that offers the potential for lower cost through simplified assembly, higher energy production and the use of ultra-thin silicon wafers. The technology was originally developed by James Gee, a senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) in Albuquerque. The technology was incubated at the University New Mexico Science and Technology Center until Advent Solar approached Forest City to develop their new building.

The office area at Advent Solar comprises 13,313 square feet of the 87,596-square-foot building. More than 160 employees work three shifts, seven days a week at the manufacturing facility.

Advent Solar’s headquarters building features tilt-up concrete and corrugated metal wall panels. It was designed to accommodate a future second floor level and an additional 40,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The architectural firm of Dekker Perich Sabatini designed the building to achieve LEED certification for both the core and tenant improvements.

Advent Solar’s offices occupy approximately 13,313 square feet and the manufacturing plant comprises the remaining 74,283 square feet. Punched storefront windows provide day lighting and views for the office portion. Skylights and large overhead glass doors light the interior manufacturing spaces. Advent Solar uses outdoor lighting fixtures that are shielded and downward-facing to preserve New Mexico’s dark sky while considering safety and the benefit of energy and financial savings.

The grounds have accommodations for multiple bicycle riders and designated parking for hybrid fuel vehicles. All landscaping is xeriscaped and there is a cistern system to collect rainwater from the roof for use in landscape irrigation. Plans are to install the company’s own solar panels to generate electricity, but have been delayed as they fulfill orders from customers.

As a manufacturer of a sustainable energy solution, Advent Solar President Russell Schmitt said it was Advent Solar’s goal to be headquartered in a facility that demonstrated the company’s commitment to sustainability. “We set an example in the construction of the building by using a high percentage of recycled and low emitting materials and by recycling the construction waste material,” said Schmitt. “We will continue that example with our focus on conservation and an energy efficient operation.”

Schmitt said this green philosophy extends from the offices to the manufacturing process. “From the early phases of process development, Advent has been a firm believer in the principle of ‘Lean Manufacturing.’ We have adopted its doctrine of efficiency throughout our entire organization. This streamlined, no waste approach lets us do more with less. It helps reduce costs and increases productivity. Coupled with our breakthrough technology, you set the stage for rapid growth in production volume, increased information turns, decreased cycle times and almost instant customer response.”


Punched storefront windows provide day lighting and views for the office portion. Skylights and large overhead glass doors will light the manufacturing spaces.

A Sustainable Community for the 21st Century
A little south of Advent Solar is Albuquerque Studios, owned by film giant Pacifica Ventures. Studio personnel moved into their new office space and are now leasing more than 500,000 square feet of soundstages, production office space, post-production suites, and plenty of room for set construction, lighting and grip storage, set storage and a large backlot – a full-service facility for film, television, music videos, commercials and digital media production.

Both tenants selected Mesa del Sol, a development that combines job creation and sustainable urban community planning, to achieve a strategic balance of environmental resources, economic objectives and social amenities. Calling it a sustainable community for the 21st century, the development is on Albuquerque’s southeast mesa, adjacent to Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories, close to downtown and just six minutes from the airport.

Forest City Covington NM, LLC, a joint venture of Forest City Enterprises, Inc. and Covington Capital Corporation, is the master developer of Mesa del Sol. Forest City Enterprises, Inc., is an $8.5 billion company and Covington Capital Corporation is a leading developer of industrial and residential projects in the southwest. The State Land Office selected Forest City as the developer of 9,000 acres of the 12,900-acre site in an open bid process. The company’s experience at Stapleton in Denver, CO and its financial strength and reputation were all key factors in winning that selection process.


Advent Solar’s reception area features a soaring ceiling and distinctive views of the New Mexico landscape.

A Triple Helix Partnership
Aside from sheer scale, there are three elements of the Mesa del Sol project that distinguish it from other master planned developments; its novel triple helix partnership structure, a commitment by the developer to attract twice as many economic base jobs needed to support the new residential population; and an unprecedented commitment to sustainability and New Urbanist design.

The triple helix partnership arrangement is the brainchild of Barry Lang of Covington Capital. Under the arrangement, the public partners will derive future income from the development, as they will share in a percentage of the profits at a later date while having no balance sheet exposure. Barry Lang said, “We believe that this new model of a state government, a major research university and a master developer is going to give Albuquerque a competitive advantage when competing in this new innovation-driven economy.”

The other distinguishing elements of the project — sustainability, new urbanism and economic development — are hallmarks of Forest City’s approach to real estate development. “We are not just a land developer making money for our shareholders,” said Michael Daly, chief operating officer of Forest City Covington NM, LLC. “We made a commitment to grow the whole region and demonstrate a new way to build sustainable communities.”

This is a true community building project with all the dimensions and complexity of a small city; a mixture of employment, commercial, residential, institutional development, parks and open space.


Employees can enjoy a sweeping view of Albuquerque as they stop for coffee or lunch in the company’s break room.

Renewable Energy Cluster Partner
Daly said Advent Solar’s launch at Mesa del Sol is the first step in developing a renewable energy cluster at the development. He envisions Mesa del Sol as a national center for solar research, development, manufacturing and demonstration and is seeking companies from all parts of the solar balance-of-systems: manufacturers of solar cells, modules, racks, solar engines, solar thermal domestic hot water systems, thermal troughs, inverters, batteries, as well as systems integrators and distributors.

Early on in the negotiations, Nick Smerigan, executive director of Albuquerque Studios, said he pointed out that the lack of amenities at Mesa del Sol could pose a problem. Under the agreement between Forest City and the studios, there is a plan in place to accelerate construction of some of Mesa del Sol’s planned amenities, including a community center and retail outlets.

Creative Financing Spurs Opportunity
Development that pays for itself is a new idea for New Mexico. Forest City received approval from the Albuquerque City Council and the New Mexico State Senate and House of Representatives to form a Tax Increment District (TID) with a percentage of funding directed toward paying for public infrastructure. It is the first time a TID has been tied to job creation and the first time the financing mechanism has been used in the state. TID is a way for taxes generated by Mesa del Sol to pay for the public infrastructure for the development.

Since beginning the project in 2005, Forest City has invested $46 million in Mesa del Sol. “It takes courage to do the right thing. We are looking for long-term payoff — there is no immediate payoff. As our company co-chairman Albert Ratner says, at Mesa del Sol, we are designing a community where people can get their lives back,” said Daly.

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By Mark Lautman, director of economic development, Forest City Covington NM, LLC.