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Solar Innovators HelioVolt, SunPower, Stellaris Honored for Innovations (Wall Street Journal)

Three solar power innovators were honored in the Wall St. Journal's 2006 Technology Innovation Awards, along with Fiberstars (lighting), A123Systems (storage) and Zensys (wireless).

HelioVolt won the overall "Silver" award and took top honors in the Energy and Power category of the Wall Street Journal's Technology Innovation Awards this year. The winning innovation was the company's process for making ultra-thin solar power materials. HelioVolt develops technology for applying thin-film photovoltaic coatings to conventional construction materials.

Conventional solar cells remain costly to manufacture, noted William Webb, a judge for the awards. "It takes all the energy you would gather using a solar panel for three years just to manufacture the thing, which puts in perspective its cost," Webb said. "HelioVolt's work seems to be leading to something that could dramatically improve that, and that would bring enormous benefits to individuals who have lower energy bills and also to the environment. So that one seemed a very worthy winner to me."

Runner-up SunPower makes high-efficiency solar cells that collect electricity on the back of the cell, away from the sun. The cells are more efficient because there are no shadows or reflective surfaces on the front of the cell.

Stellaris, another runner-up in the category, has developed translucent photovoltaic solar panels that can be integrated into a building’s structure as a skylight or a curtain wall. The company's core technology is a concentrating solar -- small lenses that concentrate light onto narrow strips of PV material.

Other companies honored

Fiberstars was noted as a runner-up in the energy category for their fiber-optic lighting system that they say emits no heat and consumes as little as 20 percent of the energy of traditional lighting.

Runner-up Zensys has developed Z-Wave wireless controls for home automation. Webb liked their use of wireless mesh technology, which allows signals to be transferred directly between nodes instead of routing them through a central hub, reducing power requirements and improving network reliability. Webb said Zensys "seems to have used a very pragmatic approach to come up with something that may not be the most advanced state-of-the-art system, but works really well in delivering around-the-home wireless control networks."

A123Systems also made runner-up status for their lithium-ion batteries that WSJ says deliver high power, long life and advanced levels of safety.

The "Gold" award went to Sun Microsystems for software; Pfizer and Nektar Therapeutics shared the "Bronze" award for inhalable insulin.

Professor Webb was interviewed by the Journal's John Leger in a podcast.

Public energy companies in this article: Fiberstars, Inc. (NASDAQ: FBST), SunPower Corporation (Nasdaq: SPWR)


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