I moderated a panel session with a number of growth-stage solar companies presenting at the recent Intersolar event in San Francisco and wanted to give a quick rundown of some of their major points.  Here goes:

Solexant
Damoder Reddy, CEO

  • Solexant's recent $41.5 million funding round was "one of the few up-rounds in the solar industry," according to the CEO.
  • The firm has "built most of the production equipment on their own" and is projecting costs "well below 50 cents per watt."
  • The firm is going to market with cadmium telluride on metal foil but is essentially material agnostic.
  • Their nano-crystal in a solvent ink on a roll-to-roll line allows significantly larger module sizes.
  • The can make a 6 amp module and show a huge savings in cabling cost versus First Solar because of higher amperage.

BrightSource Energy

Charles Ricker, Senior Vice President of Business Development

  • BSE is producing steam for power but has also added production of steam for Thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery (TEOR) -- there is now a TEOR demo plant under construction.
  • The power block is 55 percent to 60 percent the cost of the plant.  BSE uses an air-cooled power block, which results in an efficiency penalty but uses less water and makes permitting easier.
  • According to Ricker, a typical golf course uses more water than their Ivanpah plant will use.
  • "You have to go from the PowerPoint business to the Power Plant business"
  • BSE's "secret sauce" and key IP is the software needed to control 60,000 heliostats and the 120,000 mirrors in a solar field
  • Ricker claimed a solar-to-thermal efficiency of 54 percent

Stion

Chet Farris, CEO

  • Stion now has 85 employees and their CIGS-based product will offer "silicon efficiency at thin film costs."
  • Farris has a long career in solar and is "not a big fan of amorphous silicon."  It was a "dead duck ten years ago" and "is a dead duck today."  It will be "relegated to specialty and niche markets."
  • Stion has demonstrated 13.4 percent efficiency on full-size panels with their single-junction product.
  • Stion is currently producing 2-foot-by-5-foot panels at 120 watts to 130 watts for all solar sectors.
  • The firm has a roadmap to 15 percent efficiency and is sold out of short-term capacity.
  • Farris claims that the firm has 150 megawatts of purchase commitments and their partnership with foundry TSMC will result in a 100-megawatt expansion.
  • Farris also claimed that they can get to market in "half the time and with one-tenth the money."

 

AQT

  
Michael Bartholomeusz, CEO

  • AQT is on the contrarian side of CIGS panel manufacturers -- they are not going after monolithic assembly but instead want to be "a drop-in replacement for crystalline silicon."
  • The firm is using established dry sputtering equipment to manufacture their cells.
  • AQT has gotten to strong efficiency figures in a very short two years after having spent less than $15 million.
  • They see themselves at a lower ASP than First Solar and still perserving a 50 percent gross margin.

 

Enphase Energy

Paul Nahi, CEO

  • Micro-inverter company Enphase had a 12.6 percent U.S. market share in the first quarter of 2010.
  • The firm has 115 employees and a multi-megawatt pipeline.
  • In the CEO's words, "A microinverter is not a miniature central inverter."
  • On reliability: "The only reliability data that matters is empirical," "We are the most reliable inverter on the market today," "Reliability is king."
  • "Many large companies use your balance sheet as a proxy for your credibility."
  • "Selling to a module manufacturer is a more painful process than selling to a retail customer -- we are just today at a point where module manufacturers think they can trust us."

Tioga Energy

 
Paul Detering, CEO

  • Solar PPA company Tioga's CEO does not believe in the feed-in tariff approach; in his viewpoint, it's always priced incorrectly.
  • "We need to drive down cost."
  • A colleague of Detering, regarding the subsidy and policy structure of the industry had this to say: "I've never seen a more dysfunctional industry than the renewable industry."
  • Detering cited the recent examples of his firm's work at the Athenian School using the Morris Model.

Clean Power Finance

Joseph Brakohiapa, CEO

  • CPF sells Software-as-a-Service to solar installers to ease the paperwork morass -- there are typically three to six hours of rebate paperwork on every solar job.
  • The goal "is to get solar beyond the early adoption stage."
  • According to the CEO, "7,000 folks use our product" and the firm sees more roofers and HVAC people getting into the solar installation business.
  • One of the CPF's goals is to enable Point-of-Sale Financing.

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Headline with apologies to The Nails