Rust Belt sunshine: Silicon Valley solar firm gives autoworkers green jobs

Alex Salkever

To get to the future of Detroit, you have to park at the guard shack outside a dusty bus depot next to the freeway in San Jose Calif., the heart of Silicon Valley. On the road in on a recent weekday, I pass buildings bearing the logos of technology titans such as Applied Materials (AMAT), Juniper Networks (JNPR), Cisco Systems (CSCO) and others. When I arrive at the shack, I meet Skyline Solar CEO Bob MacDonald, another potential Silicon Valley savior of the beleaguered U.S. auto industry.

We drive up to a chain link fence, unlock a gate, and walk onto an empty parking at the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. On the blacktop lot reside 24 shiny, solar-energy collectors built by Skyline. The collectors run 18-feet in length and are six-feet tall, configured in a gently sloping "W" and set on rotating arms that follow the sun. The panels use curved aluminum mirrors that, when Skyline ramps up for production in late 2009, will be stamped out by workers at a retooled auto parts factory in the Midwest (the company won't disclose which one exactly).