Other companies are developing systems that concentrate sunlight much more–by hundreds of times–in an effort to further decrease the amount of expensive solar-cell material needed. Indeed, two of Skyline Solar’s founders were part of the founding team at another concentrating-solar company, SolFocus, that was also developing a high-concentration system. But they decided that the technology, while promising, faced too many technical hurdles to be brought to market quickly.
While Skyline Solar’s technology may be simpler and easier to bring to market, it’s not guaranteed success, says Travis Bradford, a professor of management at the University of Chicago and a solar-industry analyst with the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development. “Parabolic troughs are known, so they know what the costs are, and they can make them at a predictable rate,” he says. But like almost all concentrating-solar systems, they require a tracking system to keep the mirrors pointed at the sun. “Mirrors are probably cheaper to make than solar cells–for now. But when you add in the tracking, whether there’s any real advantage is questionable.”
What’s more, Bradford says that prices for conventional silicon solar panels are falling dramatically, closing the gap between the cost of regular panels and the cost of the mirrors and the tracking system combined. Potentially, this makes it less worthwhile to concentrate sunlight.
Bradford notes, however, that if Skyline Solar does manage to keep its prices lower than those of the competition, it has a large potential market. The application that it’s designed for–medium-size solar-power plants at the edges of cities, called distributed utility systems–is the fastest-growing segment of the solar market.