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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)


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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.

Listen to the full interview in the podcast.

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.

More Insights in the Podcast

The podcast features the full interview, including these topics that are not in this article:

What does it mean, to be "optimized for a commercial rooftop?"

Why concentrating solar now, after all these years?

Soliant has overcome some of the go-to-market obstacles by making the Heliotube platform match the form factor installers are already familiar with. What other hurdles do they anticipate?

How soon will we be able to buy Heliotube modules and install them on a building?

Does Hines perceive a difference in the market receptivity for demand-side concentrating solar there, compared to the US?

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.


How soon, how soon??? We're not commercial, we're in a home and would like to get some of your solar panels installed.

Thanks! Jeannine Englehart

What is the current cost for these panels? Any size, weight, efficiency, etc. details?

I live in João Pessoa - Paraiba Brasil. I would like to receive more informations about solar panels. Adress: Rua Juiz Agrícola Montenegro, 105 Edifício Residencial Blue Tower - Apto. 1301

As an ardent environmentalist and engineer,I am interested in home applications of Soliant's technology in residential applications, particularly in lower solar energy environments.

Gostaria de receber informações sobre energia solar e equipamentos de baixo custo.
Sempre acreditei que podemos ter energia de Graça, para vários aparelhos que no Brasil, deveriam trinorma = 12 v, 110 v,e 220 v. num só aparelho.

Machine translation:
I would like to receive information on solar energy and equipment low cost. Always I believed that we can have energy of Favour, for some devices that in Brazil, would have trinorma = 12 v, 110 v, and 220 v. in one only device.