But the ease of installation could help convince solar installers to use the technology, says Craig Cornelius, the technology manager for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) solar-energy technology program. DOE recently announced $168 million in funding for 13 solar projects, under which Soliant will receive up to $4 million. Cornelius says that the lower installation costs will help reduce the overall costs of solar power from the modules.
Cornelius thinks that some customers, such as those with plenty of roof space, will opt for cheaper, thin-film solar panels, which in some cases can double as shingles, but are less efficient than conventional solar panels. But for those who need more power for the space they have, Cornelius says that Soliant’s approach may prove the best option. Its modules produce as much power as conventional flat panels but are less expensive, using 88 percent less silicon. The company’s next-generation system would be even better, producing three times as much power per area.
To test the panels, Soliant is working with DOE and Sun Edison, an established solar-system installer and operator based in Beltsville, MD. The second-generation system will be even more challenging to develop because light will be focused on a smaller area, requiring better tracking of the sun. Soliant will also be working with Emanuel Sachs, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, to improve manufacturing techniques and the system for aiming the concentrators.
“In some ways, what’s interesting about [Soliant’s] approach is [that] the engineering issues they have to solve are relatively mundane,” Cornelius says. “This is one of the projects that I’m most excited about in our whole portfolio.”