"The opportunity we are going to unlock is a solar market not slowed down by the issue of bankability," according to Jenya Meydbray, the CEO of PV Evolution Labs.
"Bankability" is a fuzzy term but it roughly equates to the ten or twelve top solar panel manufacturers that developers and financiers are comfortable with. Although these firms have had product in the field for decades and have shipped millions of panels, bankability is less a quantitative and more a qualitative term.
PV Evolution Labs (PVEL) wants to change that.
There is going to be a massive influx of new non-bankable companies pouring into the market as well as a considerable number of tier-two Chinese solar firms shipping product in 2011. Meydbray believes that the industry can't survive on the relatively small amount of bankable product that will be available. He suggests that In order to sustain a vibrant solar industry, companies need to compete on technology and performance -- in effect, on actual risk and not perceived risk.
With funding from high-net-worth individuals, PVEL is establishing an independent testing lab for the solar industry. The firm would act as a testing lab for solar companies ("labless" solar development) as well as provide impartial test data for the financial community and empower independent engineering firms with real data. "We are the industry's reliability lab," said the CEO.
According to Meydbray, "PV testing is not exactly a core competence" for solar panel manufacturers.
Before PVEL, Meydbray was a Senior PV Quality and Reliability Engineer at SunPower, where he developed some of the testing protocols for that firm's third-party product tests. He visited a number of global solar manufacturers in China, Germany and the U.S. and encountered a great deal of variety and subtleties in manufacturing. He learned that two manufacturers can both produce a 220-watt solar panel but there might be significant differences in the degradation and performance of those panels.
"It's easy to take for granted how harsh environments are and how long 25 years is," said the CEO in a syntax-challenged sentence.
Meydbray saw the testing needs of suppliers and decided he could add a lot more to the industry by being an outside test-house -- working with the "finicky" test equipment and machinery he was familiar with. Panel testing is a necessary process and he felt he might do it better than the manufacturing firms themselves. PVEL's capabilities include state-of-the-art environmental, mechanical, and electrical stress and characterization systems.
"PVEL enables solar panel technology developers to focus on R&D without the need to build and manage complex and expensive in-house reliability testing facilities."
Meydbray compared today's solar industry to the early day in the semiconductor market -- "each company operated like its own industry" with its own manufacturing, R&D and test labs. As the industry matured -- companies concentrated on their core competencies and outsourced the other functions. He sees that transition occurring in solar with PVEL positioned to enable that shift.
PVEL is technology agnostic and will test crystalline silicon (c-Si), amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium galium diselenide (CIGS) and organic-based solar.
PVEL's competitors are essentially the internal test organizations of solar companies. Meydbray doesn't see Underwriters Labs (UL) as a competitor. In fact, he views PVEL as a back-up to UL which is overtaxed with a backlog of photovoltaic testing. NREL and the national labs perform some testing, but not on the scale required for industry.
"In this extremely dynamic market, companies have to remain flexible," said Meydbray, adding: "Part of that maturation is not having all functions under one roof."