The unique design of Solyndra’s modules boast two primary advantages. First, the modules are cylindrical instead of flat and are packed together with a minimum gap between modules, creating a self-tracking configuration that allows the modules to capture both direct and diffuse (including light reflected off the surface of the underlying rooftop) sunlight around a 360 degree axis as the sun position shifts throughout the day. This makes additional tracking systems unnecessary, thereby saving costs while boosting photovoltaic efficiency. The vented design also enhances air flow, allowing for better systems cooling than conventional modules, thereby reducing heat accumulation that would otherwise adversely affect photovoltaic performance.
Second, because of such enhanced air flow, the Solyndra systems do not require the kind of anchoring equipment such as roof-penetrating mounts and wind ballasts that conventional systems require to withstand general wind load. Thus, Solyndra’s modules can be installed using “one-third the labor, in one-third of the time, at one-half the cost” says one Solyndra customer.
Speaking of customers, Solyndra has lined up an eye-popping $1.2 billion worth of multi-year contracts in the US and Europe, exclusively targeting, according to Technology Review, commercial rooftop applications. Pretty impressive for a three-year old start-up. All this while hiring 500 employees, building a state-of-the-art thin-film production line (see video below) and raising a war chest of $600 million from high-profile venture financiers (although there is some suggestion of one of its investment rounds not coming through completely). According to Venture Beat, Solyndra’s investors include luminaries such as Virgin Green Fund, Rockport Capital, Argonaut Venutres, RedPoint Ventures, CMEA Ventures, US Venture Partners, Masdar Cleant Tech Fund and Madrone Capital (the Walton family fund that famously backed First Solar, the “Google of thin-film”…for now).
If you are curious about the knitty-gritty on its patent, Green Light Blog covers it here.
Other Thin-Film News
Just so you are caught up on other recent thin-film developments, here’s a hit list:
- Konarka opens a new 1 GW thin-film production line in New Bedford, Massachusetts, taking over a 250,000 square feet facility previously occupied by Polaroid. Konarka’s modules are made of a proprietary organic “power plastic” material.
- Sharp announced ambitions to capture half of the thin-film market by 2012 and could have as much as 6 GW of production capacity by 2014.
- Earth2Tech discusses Semprius (which has devised a way to slice mono-crystalline wafers into thinner sheet without overly sacrificing conversion efficiency) and the dark side (i.e. cadmium) of thin-film.
- CIGS thin-film manufacturer SoloPower, based in San Jose, California, raises $200 million to build a 100 MW production facility.