Thursday, May 24, 2007

Petra Solar: Modular Panels in Space and Time

Yesterday, New Jersey-based Petra Solar announced that it had raised $14 million in Series A financingled by DFJ Element, BlueRun Ventures, and with participation from National Technology Enterprises Co (read press release).

According to an article by RedHerring, "Petra Solar’s technology is the first of its kind that can install one type of panel and later install a different kind that might be lower priced or fit into a smaller space." This has the potential to make Petra Solar, as the company dubs itself, a "disruptor in the solar value chain."

One of the compelling cases for renewable energy such as wind and solar has always been that it, unlike a centralized coal power plant which needs to be of a certain scale to be functional and economical, is modular and scalable. The basic photovoltaic (PV) or solar cell typically produces only a small amount of power. To produce more power, cells can be interconnected to form modules, which can in turn be connected into arrays to produce yet more power. Because of this modularity, PV systems can be adjusted to meet any electrical requirement, from the very basic (e.g. a couple of modules on my roof) to the very grand (e.g. numerous arrays in a solar farm such as this one reported by Wired).

Petra Solar, based on the RedHerring article, has taken the concept of modularity to the next level. With Petra Solar's systems, not only can you mix and match different kinds of PV modules within an array upon initial installation, but you can alter the panel mix over time, as solar technology and efficiencies improve, providing the potential for improved economics and payback periods for the cost-bearer as time (and technology) advances. This is is truly a breakthrough, considering that PV modules and arrays typically have product life cycles of 30 years and up. The conversion efficiencies of PV has doubled in the past 3 years, just imagine what efficiencies would avail itself to us in 30!

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