Robert Campbell, Senior Vice President of Solopower, discusses his company’s innovative solar technology.
We started as a business in 2005 and we came into the market with a brand new concept of how to make CIGS material in large volume, high quality, at low cost. So that’s what attracted our initial investors to the business. From 2005 to 2009, what we were doing is we were validating our technology, developing the processes to manufacture at scale, which we were doing that in San Jose Head Office which is our pilot manufacturing plant. It went very well. We met all of our milestones and that was the basis for 2 things; one was securing a U.S. DOE loan guarantee and two; having the investors support to go for with the large scale manufacturing plant in Portland, Oregon where were just commissioning that and it’s going to operation in the next month actually. So we start shipping commercial products to our customers next month.
What we’re trying to solve is bring a new solution to the market which we see is using this advance thin film technology to address problems not being addressed in the industry by other traditional technologies. In the short term, the properties of the product enable incredibly lightweight solutions to be deployed to buildings where they need lightweight, high wind resistance or they wish to integrate the product with the building material. So on those three areas we have a product technology which you can see here at the show which is using polymeric encapsulation system that provides the design flexibility to come up with innovative approaches. The SoloSaddle is the latest product edition where we’re integrating our product with a combined system to easily and effectively deploy pratically any roof system in the market while maintaining those characteristics of lightweight and high wind resistance. So that’s it in a nutshell.
In our pilot plant, we have a roll-to-roll manufacturing process where we deposit on a roughly a 1 foot wide strip of material, which is common with other roll-to-roll processes. What we mean to achieve with electric deposition process is scale it up to now 1 meter, over 3 foot wide roll. Just by going to that wide width at higher throughput efficiencies, it changes everything on our building. So that’s one example. On the other aspect is using SIGS,it’s an ability to improve the overall efficiency of the cell itself. So we’ve improved our cell efficiency more than 50% in the last 3 years. And were on a road map, which we’re demonstrating like month by month, and including at 1-2 % per year over the next couple of years. What that does is by having a higher, throughput manufacturing capacity with there efficiency is now approaching crystalline technology, it’s going to give us a tremendous advantage going forward.
Part of the commercial user is the commercial roof. So we’re working very closely with the building materials suppliers into the roofing business and actually integrating our products with the roofing materials. In terms of doing that we can improve quality by having a material pre-applied in a factory environment, eliminating field labor and giving consistent quality. So that’s one great application and then again I mentioned the lightweight, high wind conditions. There are customers saying “I can’t get the system to work with the current products in the market.” So they’re actually seeking us out, “I need a lightweight solution or I need a high wind solution.” And that’s working in markets such as Japan which has now a new incentive program for renewable, they have typhoons, they have hurricanes or seismic requirements and the product is very, and they have high cost labor. So in that market the end users are saying “this is a good concept.”
In Italy, another one of our target markets, they have a program to push integration of products into the building materials. And because we match well with the building materials we again come over there and say “this is great, let’s use your product.” In the United States here and other parts of the world, solving that problem for lightweight nad high wind conditions because what we’re also seeing is climate is unpredictable. We’re seeing extreme wind conditions things that not going to power the east coast, I mean when other blue storms comes up, what we’re thinking is having these properties in our products is like an insurance policy against future unpredictable weather conditions. So those customers that appreciate that and in terms of those requirements they’re the ones that were engaging.
As you know the economy is being rather turbulent and a lot of electricity markets such as Germany, Europe are finding out there that they’re running out of the resources to support some of those traditional incentive programs. So there’s a rapid escalation now to go to grid parity and that’s challenging a lot of companies in the industry combined with the present effectively over capacity in the industry. What companies are doing is they’re trying to reposition strategies that add the most values and get to grid parity the fastest. By going with the distribute generation system, deploying our technologies on rooftops we’re going after the highest cost electrical displacement. So the businesses who pay the most for electricity, we help displace that, we provide the most benefit. So, that’s again part of the challenges migrate to grid parity as fast as you can and we’re doing that but still tough.
We’ll fully ramp the first line of our factory so were producing 80 megawatts a year of products. We’ll be deploying these products worldwide. So we’ll be exporting US built technology around the world. We will have significant installations in Europe, North America, South America and Asia. We’ll have a lot of data that’s validating this concept in the marketplace. So I think as we get to this next year you’ll see a lot of success that placed the foundation for future growth and with that future growth we’ll be expanding our factory to go through higher capacities.
I got into renewables 10 years ago and I’m doing it because we want to make a difference in the environment. And we need to provide businesses solutions in a more cost effective going forward. So it’s a great win-win situation where you can provide a business solution and you’re also helping the environment.