Sol Voltaics nets record funding to commercialize its solar panel boosting tech

sol voltaics nanowire

Sol Voltaics has closed a record funding round of $21.3 million, the largest finance raise for a European solar technology company since 2015. The new finance will be used to accelerate commercialization of its highly anticipated solar efficiency boosting technology, SolFilm which the company claims will increase conventional solar panel efficiencies by up to 50%.

SolFilm, a patented, low cost thin-film which is comprised of billions of highly efficient Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) nanowires, enables solar panel manufacturers to reach efficiencies of up to 27 percent when integrated as a tandem-junction module. Having recently confirmed the successful manufacture of nanowires using their low-cost process Aerotaxy, Sol Voltaics is now in the final stages of technology optimization, with anticipated samples of its SolFilm being sent to partners by the end of 2018.

“This latest round of finance gives us the critical capital required to commercialize our efficiency boosting technology for the solar market,” said Erik Smith, Sol Voltaics CEO. “Having achieved our final major technology milestone with Aerotaxy earlier this year, we are now fully focused on reaching mass production of SolFilm. I’d like to thank our investors, both existing and new, for backing our vision and helping bring this revolutionary technology to the mass market.”

The latest funding features new investment from Norwegian company Watrium AS, alongside previous investors Kagra Gruppen AS, Nordic VC firm Industrifonden, FAM AB, Nano Future Invest, Blue Marlin AB and Teknoinvest AS. The investment brings total funding raised to $38m in the past 12 months, following the company’s $17m funding round in 2016.

— Solar Builder magazine

Penn State researchers say new concentrated PV system beats silicon solar cells

concentrated solar cells

One message delivered at Intersolar last week was the need for even better, more efficient technology to really affect change over the next few decades. Researchers at Penn State think they are on the path to one such breakthrough, with a concentrating photovoltaic system with embedded microtracking that they say can produce over 50 percent more energy per day than standard silicon solar cells in a head-to-head competition. A team of engineers field tested a prototype unit over two sunny days last fall.

“Solar cells used to be expensive, but now they’re getting really cheap,” said Chris Giebink, Charles K. Etner Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Penn State. “As a result, the solar cell is no longer the dominant cost of the energy it produces. The majority of the cost increasingly lies in everything else — the inverter, installation labor, permitting fees, etc. — all the stuff we used to neglect.”

This changing economic landscape has put a premium on high efficiency. In contrast to silicon solar panels, which currently dominate the market at 15 to 20 percent efficiency, concentrating photovoltaics focus sunlight onto smaller, but much more efficient solar cells like those used on satellites, to enable overall efficiencies of 35 to 40 percent. Current CPV systems are large — the size of billboards — and have to rotate to track the sun during the day. These systems work well in open fields with abundant space and lots of direct sun.

How is this setup?

“What we’re trying to do is create a high-efficiency CPV system in the form factor of a traditional silicon solar panel,” said Giebink.

To do this, the researchers embed tiny multi-junction solar cells, roughly half a millimeter square, into a sheet of glass that slides between a pair of plastic lenslet arrays. The whole arrangement is about two centimeters thick and tracking is done by sliding the sheet of solar cells laterally between the lenslet array while the panel remains fixed on the roof. An entire day’s worth of tracking requires about one centimeter of movement, which is practically imperceptible.

Why high-efficiency modules are the best value for installers, homeowners

“Our goal in these recent experiments was to demonstrate the technical feasibility of such a system,” said Giebink. “We put together a prototype with a single microcell and a pair of lenses that concentrated sunlight more than 600 times, took it outdoors and had it automatically track the sun over the course of an entire day.”

Because the team needed to know exactly how much direct and diffuse sunlight there was during the test, they set up at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Penn State where there is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Surface Radiation monitoring site. Graduate students Jared Price and Alex Grede worked together with post-doctoral researcher Baomin Wang to test the system over two sunny days from dawn to dusk right alongside a commercial silicon solar cell.

The CPV system reached 30 percent efficiency, in contrast to the 17 percent efficiency of the silicon cell. All together over the entire day, the CPV system produced 54 percent more energy than the silicon and could have reached 73 percent if microcell heating from the intense sunlight were avoided.

According to Giebink, this embedded tracking CPV technology would be perfect for places with lots of direct sunlight, such as the southwestern U.S. or Australia.

Giebink notes that major challenges still lie ahead in scaling the system to larger areas and proving that it can operate reliably over the long term, but he remains optimistic.

“With the right engineering, we’re looking at a step-change in efficiency that could be useful in applications ranging from rooftops to electric vehicles — really anywhere it’s important to generate a lot of solar power from a limited area.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

On the Scene: 11 cool things we saw at Intersolar 2017

Another Intersolar has come and gone, but the product innovations, large and small, are here to stay. At least until next Intersolar. If you missed the event, or didn’t have time to see all three floors, here are some products that stood out to us in the exhibit hall.

1. This quick driveline disconnect

Array Technologies Duratrack

Array Technologies is the market leader in central drive solar trackers. Array tries to minimize parts count wherever it can (150 MW of PV only needing 150 components total), and we stopped by the booth to check out some of the handy new tweaks made to its DuraTrack HZ v3. In addition to a built-in above ground wiring component, we thought this quick disconnect driveline was a smart, simple improvement for those who have always wanted a streamlined way to move the driveline for maintenance activities.

2. This simple tile mounting system

Ecofasten simple tile

Ecofasten maybe wins our award for variety of new solutions packed into one booth at Intersolar. Many of these items aren’t fancy – like partnering with Unirac on an install kit (packs of 10) – but as most of the names suggest, they are simple, which is often even better. Like this new (so new it isn’t officially named) Rail-Based Tile System. The flashing itself replaces one complete tile, so no cutting, drilling or grinding there. After the stud and simple seal bushing are fastened to the tile base, place the flashing over, pound it with a hammer to form a hole over the stud and then install the L-foot with a bonded washer and nut.

3. An AC module power couple

LG enphase AC module

Details on this here.

4. The concept of ‘Microstorage’

JLM Energy

JLM Energy launched a new energy storage product category called MicroStorage — a battery pack that couples directly to a corresponding solar panel, as you see here. JLM says the advantage of its Phazr’s microstorage approach is that a single solar panel can concurrently charge a battery and deliver energy to the grid. The simultaneous nature of electron flow is unique to JLM’s patent-pending technology. The Phazr is designed for large scale solar plus storage applications, and is also perfectly suited for smaller residential and commercial installs.

5. A totally new approach to ground-mounts

Nuance Energy

This could be a gamechanger for ground-mount installations. Nuance Energy has a new solution, inspired by an old solution: anchoring. Nuance Energy wants to lessen the amount of steel needed on a site by not driving any into the ground at all. Using the pieces you see above, a hole is drilled, the anchor is driven down 40 inches into the soil and pulled by an uplift device. As the anchor turns and is pulled there is a natural ballasting that occurs using the earth itself. Utility poles are anchored using this strategy. This could drastically save on traditional installation, and even created a new “lift and shift” category, where a portable unit is fixed into place on a drilling or mining site and then removed once the project has ended.

6. This wall-mounted 100-kW inverter

solaredge

The combo EV charger / inverter maybe received the most buzz on the floor, but we gravitated to its new wall-mounted 100 kW inverter. Yes, a wall-mounted 100 kW inverter. This prewired three box setup looks like (and installs like) three string inverters, but is commissioned as one inverter. Installing 1 MW in half a day is a possibility.

7. The wire management on this tracker

SF7 Soltec Bluxome party

Soltec made a splash at Intersolar this year as it tries to do more business here in the U.S. There is a lot to like about their product, like the amount of panels you can mount in one row (which makes for a more energy dense field), but it was the little things that stood out most. Specifically how the wire management of the system is housed inside the torque tube.

8. The potential of this smart home device for solar installers

smappee solar storage

I have no live photo of this (it was the afternoon of Day 3 and I forgot — give me a break, already.) but the Smappee is the coolest thing we saw the entire week. Attach it to the cable coming into the house, and the Smappee will listen to everything – what’s turning on and off, how much standby power there is, how much PV is being generated, and on and on. This gives homeowners much deeper (and easy to follow) insight into their home energy consumption and, at the same time, provides solar installers another touch point for customer follow ups and service. The low price point (under $400) makes it potentially an easy first foot in the door. Right off the bat, a homeowner is likely to save 12 percent on their utility bill, just through awareness and optimization tips from the app. From there savings could approach 45 percent.

9. This stepped-up decentralized tracker

solar flexrack tracker turnkey

Solar FlexRack launched its TDP Turnkey Tracker about this time last year. The update for this year is a newer, longer single row tracker (90 modules with 2 to 4 more posts), adjusted by a larger motor that will open up larger, utility-scale projects. The torque tube is offset to achieve better balance. The attention to detail is big for Solar FlexRack, which is why “turnkey” is built into this product’s name – its slew of engineers are involved in their installations to avoid adding their company name to the list of growing tracker system failures out in the field.

10. This tripod tile mount

Sun Modo tile

Sun Modo tripod

The last few years has seen a flood of great tile roof mount solutions enter the market. The TopTile Mount that SunModo debuted at Intersolar is an entirely above-the-tile system – no need to deconstruct the tile roof. The tripod mounting stanchion can be mounted on a tile ridge independent of rafter position. This could cut your install time in half, compared to a more conventional approach.

11. Smart surge software

Tabuchi Americas

Now with a two-battery system setup, Tabuchi Americas continues to improve upon its solar+storage system (now more than 20,000 installs worldwide). Thanks to an integrated transfer switch, everything needed to get a PV + storage system up and running is included in the package, which means at least $1,000 soft cost savings over an unbundled system. In fact, this is one of the first UL 9540 certified systems – the certification specifically for solar + storage systems. Updates to the system’s intelligence has also improved its defenses against power surges from things like water pumps.

— Solar Builder magazine

Details on LG, Enphase panel partnership that debuted at Intersolar

Module-level electronics are being integrated into panels by OEMs more and more to streamline installations and reduce costs. At Intersolar 2017, the solar industry’s newest power couple announced its debut: LG and Enphase.

LG Enphase ACE panel

Meet LG’s NeON 2 ACe – an AC module that combines LG’s NeON 2 technology with Enphase’s IQ6+ microinverter.

“This changes the basic architecture of an install – the goal is to see the inverter go away and to go plug-and-play,” LG noted at the press event. “This also makes warehousing easier by reducing part count.”

Product Details

LG enphase AC module

  • With this setup, you are able to connect the AC modules without an additional trunk cable, which minimizes cable complexity on the roof.
  • Minimize installation time by reducing connecting work. The DC connection and operation are tested during manufacturing.
  • In view of environment, water-proof capability of the junction box has been improved with an IP 68 Rating
  • Beyond the physical enhancements, the NeON 2 ACe provides an integrated web-based solution. Monitor power generation through the internet, anywhere and anytime and utilize an automatic problem diagnosis function.
  • With LG AC Module mobile app, it’s possible to set up all monitoring configuration steps. A gateway automatically detects and registers AC module through Broadband PLC line once it is connected to powerline.
  • Along with ease of installation, going all low voltage AC means a safer installation too as well as automatically complying with NEC 2014/2017, Rule 21(CA), Rule 14H(HI), UL 1741SA.

Why high-efficiency modules are the best value for installers, homeowners

— Solar Builder magazine

Solaria PowerXT modules now being distributed by Soligent

Solaria PowerXT residential solar modules are now being distributed by Soligent, the largest pure play solar distributor in the Americas, headquartered in Petaluma, Calif. Solaria’s high-efficiency PowerXT 330Wp residential module is one of the industry’s most bankable solar products.

solaria

The PowerXT module line offers homeowners and businesses a 20% higher energy yield over conventional modules. Thanks to a patented cell cutting and module assembly process, Solaria PowerXT solar modules provide high power with a sleek design. The 330W panels mean labor savings on racking and system components over other lower wattage modules. With Solaria expanding its PowerXT solar cell and module manufacturing line at its headquarters in Fremont, California, it will provide U.S. installers with a top offering of products.

“Soligent is proud to partner with Solaria to make PowerXT available across the country. Soligent, with its 38 years of solar expertise, is excited to introduce Solaria’s high quality, beautifully engineered PV modules to our customers,” said Soligent President Thomas Enzendorfer. Soligent CEO Jon Doochin said “Solaria’s PowerXT accelerates payback period and installer profits, giving our installers a competitive edge. When coupled with Soligent’s distribution capability, Solar Engine financing, system designs, and our Soligent Elite loyalty program, Soligent is equipping its installers with more tools to succeed than ever before.”

Solaria BIPV technology now available through CleanFund Commercial PACE financing

— Solar Builder magazine