The topic of FountainBlue’s Clean Energy Entrepreneurs’ Forum on June 1 was “Next Generation Solar Solutions.” The three presenting entrepreneurs were:
· Kuldip Sethi, NanoInnovations
· Fareed Sfard, PhD, Ahura Energy Inc.
· Helmuth Treichel, SunSonix
The first wave of clean energy investments have been in solar solutions. Now that investments have taken place for decades, the verdict has been coming in on solar solutions: some have evaporated, some have excelled, some are STILL up and coming, and some are amongst the walking dead. This leaves investors wary about funding new solar solutions, particularly if they are ‘me-too’ solutions, without innovation in technology or business models. This month’s panel featured:
· Facilitator Craig Lobdell, Partner, KPMG
· Panelist Matthew Garratt, Senior Associate, Battery Ventures
· Panelist Bob MacDonald, CEO, Skyline Solar
· Panelist Lorenza Moro, Senior Researcher, Materials Science Laboratory, SRI International
· Panelist Ryan Murr, Partner, Business Law Department, Goodwin Procter LLC
· Panelist PR Yu, CEO, Optony
Although it is not a revolutionary technology, silicon solutions remain in the forefront for residential, commercial and utility solutions due to 1) their low cost with the current glut of availability in the market and general availability of silicon as a natural resource, 2) their alignment with current infrastructure needs, and 3) the availability of technical resources transferring from the semiconductor to the clean energy market. With that said, there is predicted to be many evolutionary changes to improve the silicon solution design, for example: making current designs more modular, making the manufacturing process even more efficient and cost-effective, improving energy storage and distribution capabilities, and affecting business model innovations needed to ensure wider adoption, including increasing financial options and turnkey solutions.
The next generation of silicon will be thin film, but the general consensus is that thin film’s efficiency levels do not justify the higher costs overall, and we are not likely to reach grid parity for 3-5 years, depending on factors such as land cost, cost of energy, availability of technical resources, infrastructure readiness, etc.
We were cautioned not to be complacent with the dominance of silicon in the near term, but to proactively consider the next generation solar solutions as the US PV market is growing at a healthy clip, expected to grow ten times in the next year from 300-350 megawatts to 3000 or so, and orders of magnitude growth is expected for larger projects. There will therefore be an increased demand for all solar solutions provided that they are efficiently priced and delivered, including silicon, concentrated photovoltaics, thin film, compressed air technologies (CATs), and solar cells with nano and organic and other novel materials.
In conclusion, the panel advises us to bank on a range of solutions, depending on the needs of the customer, from commercial, to residential to industrial, to local available resources, energy pricing, policy standards and requirements, etc. Each case is different. Crystalline silicon solutions, for example, make perfect sense for retrofitting existing residential structures, but PV solutions might be better for new construction projects. Farms of solar panels might make sense in sunny regions with access to water, like Hawaii, but CAT might be better for desert-like areas like Arizona, which has sun but no water. Large industrial plants with ‘buffer zones’ may consider using the land for solar panels, wind turbines, etc., depending on local conditions and regulations. Consider these types of variables when making solar technology decisions.