Mahi Thothadri, Senior Director of Product Management & Marketing for Cogenra Solar, discusses how his company combines PV and thermal technology to produce heat and electricity on demand.
I’m Mani Thothadri. I’m with Cogenra Solar. I am the Senior Director of Marketing and Product Management there. I’ve been there for the last two years or so. We have a 3 year old start up and I’ve been in the Silicon Valley for over 12-13 years. Prior to this I was in semiconductor area, solar as well as in display, I went to another fairly large mechanical equipment company and my brackground is I have a PhD in related fields.
So, essentially if you take a traditional PV panel, a PV Panel produces electricity, uses sun’s energy to produce electricity with 15% efficiency. Where does the remaining 85% go? It goes as wasted heat; this is just rejected to the atmosphere. So what we do is we take that 85% heat and we actually capture a good chunk of that; actually 60% of that. So basically we are a company that does 15% electricity out of the sun’s energy and another 60% of heat and we monetize that heat in various ways. Basically our product is a module that offers 75% efficiency of solar energy conversion and to our specific customer, we’ll be generating PV based electricity and solar thermal based hot water or solar cooling or more electricity depending on the customer needs.
First and foremost we are a PV company. So we do everything to make sure that our PV is automized and is running to the maximum efficiency capture that’s possible. And on the other side of this we capture this heat that is not rejected by PV to convert it to basic forms of heat. In this process, where we are completely differentiated with all the thermal companies is, the PV energy is a much higher value energy than the traditional solar heat. A lot of companies are focusing just on heat, they are producing a form of energy that, for example typical solar thermal company maybe producing 5 units of maybe converting some form of energies to 5 kilowatts hours let’s just call it. We produce 4 kilowatt hours of heat and the remaining 1 will be converted to 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity. So essentially if you look at the value of what we capture, electricity is the value that goes here in California and the remaining 4 units of heat that produces value roughly ¼. So we produce something that is of the order of 60% higher than what solar thermal guys may produce, a typical solar thermal power may produce. And on the PV side we produce twice the value compared to what the PV does. So we are very well differentiated compared to all of these technologies and how we monetize, we grade temperature we can get until now a good chunk of projects and we have actually 20 in the last 3 years of existence. The last year that we’ve been actively in commercializing our products, we’ve gone into 5 countries, we have over 20 installations and 30 plus active projects. We have now press releases on Facebook. Some of these customers are repeat customers in Kendall Jackson Winery, Clover Dairy. So very marque and very distinct vertical segments within the solar hot water segment. And as we move, next one is going to be cooling, is solar cooling and we announce the pilot project with SoCal Gas Utility down side here in California, where we take as heat and couple, use that to fire an absorption chiller and now that produces solar cooling.
Solar cooling makes a lot of intuitive sense because it’s very well correlated with the sun both seasonally and daily as well. So it’s a natural fit. There’s a lot of incentives that are now coming, that are already in place in Arizona, expected in California and few other markets and Europe and some of these Asian markets are well ahead in the solar cooling. The third thing is where we can now take the same heat, elevate that temperature, and remember meanwhile we are producing electricity as well. So that revenue stream, and that energy stream is fixed and it’s continuing throughout. We suffer some small degradation but it’s more than compensated by the additional value that’s provided by cooling or the next step which is to couple this to an organic rank and cycle turbine, along with the storage, and now we produce additional electricity. Now that produces almost 30-33 % boost to our PV base electricity. In addition to that the biggest advantage of that is, this is now storable; this can be dispatch when the customer wants it. So it firms up that the PV we produce, when clouds move in, our PV drops, we can pull the heat from the tank and compensate for that gap where the PV fluctuates. So there is literally nobody in the world that does PV and CSP really in this swamp. And so what we bring on to this is the cost and the modularity of PV and the storage benefits of the CSP. And this is a value proposition that completely resonates because from the customer side of things we can target any commercial or light industrial customers and really address their demand charges; the demand charges by focusing on the PV based electricity.
Our product is very well differentiated. Now with respect to all of the extraneous events that are happening, a lot of them are actually helping us in some sense. Because with the capacity that’s being added in China and the cost reductions that are driving the industry towards this consolidation towards the entire value chain. So we are a concentrating technology which uses and reuse standard mono-crystalline molecules and silicon cells. With some customerization to enable the low concentrations that we do. And what that means is that the amount of silicon that we actually use in our modules is a lot lower. We are system player; we are not nicking these modules we are not making this silicon crystalline silicon cells in any way. We procure standards for silicon cells and incorporate them into our modules. So when the prices drop and the efficiency improves we just go after the improvement so we are very well positioned to just accentuate and deepen our differentiation as these events unfold. So we are in a very comfortable position along those lines.
The Intercontinental Hotel was very significant for us in a lot of different ways. It was one of the five different countries that we have penetrated. It’s actually a good chunk and it’s a first pilot project so to speak for that region. When I say pilot it’s because the same owner actually owns 30 other establishments. Once his comfortable with the performance and the commitments and everything, the goal would be to deploy these systems in a good chunk of these other places in Central America. What the system is actually is, about 48 modules of our PV thermal catering to their hot water needs on the thermal side and the electricity is used by their facility. It produces about 16,000L of water. It is 120kW system, electric plus thermal. Out of that about 100 is on the thermal side and about 20-22 is the electric side. And it offsets a good 120kWh of heat that displaces their heat and the electricity side again it’s another about 16,000kwh and 20, 000 kwh.
Our next push is going to be as I said in the solar cooling space and more importantly on the product development side and the first pilot side on the ORC space. The pilot for the ORC is something that we are pursuing with the number of different entities, utilities as well as industrial customers and we see an immense fractions for this firming up the story being forming up the PV. Because if you look at PV as a technology, it’s only going to accelerate, the cause a dramatic drop and PV implementation and deployment across the US and throughout the world is only going to accelerate and as those accelerates, firming up technologies that can firm up like battery and storage is going to be very critical. What we bring is, where batteries suffer within our 3-5 year replacement cycle and charge, discharge efficiencies and everything what we bring forth is a thermal storage which is proven and established for 20 years as lifetime is not a problem. And the causes of these things are so low that it fundamentally changes the equation when you can take the heat at 120 Celsius or so and generate more electricity with it and so that is going to be our biggest focus as we move forward.
So I come from a semi connector background primarily. I spent some amount of time during that time on the solar technologies as well and display technologies, with a semi-condcutor company. And solar is always kind of captured my focus. I’m a very passionate person, very accommodative, very motivated to do what I do. And in the solar space is evolving, is fundamentally very interesting to me. And the critical thing being the whole vertical chain has consolidated to a point where its companies that have focused on system design and overall system level differentiation is where the play is. And that’s precisely where Cogenra is and precisely what interests me with Cogenra and in terms of what I do on a daily basis.