Soliant Energy Targets Commercial Rooftops with its Concentrating Solar Platform
When you decide to put a solar power system on the roof of your building, the next question is, "what kind?" There are conventional silicon modules, a technology that hasn't changed dramatically since the first lunar landing. There are thin film solar sheets that add a layer of protection and insulation to the roof, while they generate power -- although not as efficiently. Soliant Energy is working on a form of concentrating solar technology for commercial rooftops. Energy Priorities interviews CEO Brad Hines. (podcast) (photo)
April 12, 2007
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Brad Hines is CEO of Soliant Energy, known until recently as Practical Instruments. He's a former NASA chief architect who started his company in 2005 with backing from some top-tier venture-capital firms, including Rockport and Nth Power.
I interviewed Mr. Hines about Soliant's technology and the outlook for rooftop concentrating solar modules.
Soliant Energy's Heliotube concentating solar module is similar in shape and size to conventional flat-plate modules. Soliant can make the Heliotube larger, without the risk of breakage, because the module is not a single sheet of glass. Instead, it is made of parallel reflective troughs that focus the sun's rays on photovoltaic strips. This concentrating technique increases the photovoltaic efficiency.
Concentrating solar has been around for a long time, and we're seeing a revival in utility-class projects like Solar One in Nevada. Soliant's Heliotube product isn't at all like those huge ground-based tracking dishes. It's flat, and uses a form factor familiar to flat panel installers.
A motorized tracking mechanism makes the modules more efficient, even though they receive the same amount of sunshine as a conventional flat panel.
Soliant is one of a handful of companies chosen to receive funding under the Solar America Initiative. They will be teamed with a national lab, a university, and two other companies, Spectrolab and SunEdison.
Spectrolab's high-efficiency solar cells will be integrated into Soliant's concentrator platform. Sandia National Laboratory will evaluate the overall efficiency of the unit, and SunEdison will evaluate the marketability. Meanwhile MIT will work on manufacturing techniques to bring the cost down.