As the solar industry and photovoltaic module industry matures, incremental improvements become more and more important. Barring a black swan technological event that disrupts the current cost and efficiency trajectory, module vendors are now fighting for every tiny advantage in cost reduction and performance improvement.
Andrew Beebe, Vice President at Suntech Power, has remarked that a cost reduction of even one-tenth of a cent is worthy of attention at that leading solar firm. So when a company like Genie Lens Technology makes the claim that they can improve module efficiency by a percentage point or two, it's definitely worth taking a look.
Genie Lens is the company, SolOptics their solar division and Fusion is the lens design that CEO Seth Weiss has begun to unveil in an exclusive to Greentech Media. The firm is a product of a group of optics experts who are already in the business of designing lens and holograms for printed lenses and labels for anti-counterfeiting applications.
The company's core skill is the ray-tracing software they've developed. This enables the user of the software to create microstructures that can be embossed or cast into either a thin polymer film and then adhered to a PV panel, either in the factory or in the field -- much in the same way that tinting film is applied to a window. The structure can also be rolled onto the photovoltaic glass itself.
According to the CEO, the microstructures yield the efficiency gain whether the photovoltaic material is silicon, CIGS or cadmium telluride, and the price for that gain is less than ten cents per watt. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tested the lens system in March of this year and confirmed that it provides net efficiency gains of at least 10 to 12.5 percent.
The startup doesn't want to be the sales arm for the end product but rather wants to license the design to a large manufacturer early in the food chain. Prime candidates are companies like PPG, St. Gobain or Pilkington in the glass world or 3M and Dow in the plastic film and encapsulant field. The licensing model could work; Innovalight seems to be doing well with that idea, although Innovalight is selling a product as well as a license. Other products in the 'we'll increase your photovoltaic efficiency' business would include Xerocoat's anti-reflective coatings and Banyan Energy's lens systems.
Three factors in the lensing design account for the efficiency improvement that SolOptics has achieved:
- Improved TIR provides a greater likelihood of absorption
- Anti-reflective characteristic -- the geometry on the surface creates an improved acceptance angle when light is off-center, capturing more off-angle sunlight
- Most importantly, the path length of the light is lengthened -- the longer the light ray, the more electrons stimulated and the more electricity generated
The startup believes that it can provide customized lens designs that take into account different geographies and conditions -- meaning panels can be optimized for use in Germany versus Seattle versus Colorado.
The ten-employee startup is funded by the "generosity of the founders" and a "big group of angel investors."