TAINAN, Taiwan -- Gloria Solar has signed a memorandum of understanding with a major European carmaker to work on developing solar panels that would fit over a compact electric car's roof, CEO Sam Wu told Greentech Media on Thursday.
The solar panel maker in southern Taiwan signed the MOU to work with the automaker after seeing a curved panel Gloria designed for an electric carmaker at the Intersolar conference in Munich last month, Wu said. He declined to disclose the carmaker that signed the MOU.
Gloria, whose investors include Taiwanese automaker Yulon Group, has been developing automotive rooftop panels since its inception in 2006.
Audi is field-testing rooftop panels from Gloria for its cars, said John Tsai, manager of sales and marketing at Gloria. Those panels could produce up to 25 watts of energy.
"We don't want to make only make standard modules because the margins are low and the competition is brutal," Tsai said.
But what drew the interest of the undisclosed European automaker was the larger and curvier panel that Gloria designed and made for a small French electric car and scooter maker MATRA, who showed it off at the Paris Auto Show last October.
The panel (pictured agove) could have up to 75 watts in power output and contains crystalline silicon solar cells on plastic rather than glass. It could power a car's air conditioning system and prolong the mileage of a car's battery. A battery that would last 40 miles per charge could last for roughly 50 miles, Wu said.
The panel designed for MATRA would work for a small two-seater, neighborhood car. Gloria has built 150 panels for MATRA, which has used some of them for field-testing and sold some of the cars to government fleets in France.
Automakers have looked at adding solar panels on rooftops before, but that idea hasn't made its way to the average consumer car. When Mitsubishi unveiled its iMIEV concept car in 2007, the model came with a solar rooftop.
Last month, Kyocera said it would supply rooftop panels for Toyota's Prius.
Making a panel that can curve and hug the entire rooftop is tricky, Wu said. Parabolic-shaped panels could also find uses in integrating solar panels into buildings.
"Everybody claims they can do building-integrated PV, but theirs are flat, not curved," Wu said.
Although Gloria is devoting resources to the automotive market, its primary focus is on providing panels and engineering and construction services for building solar power plants, Tsai said.
Gloria doesn't make solar cells but buy them from E-Ton Solar and JA Solar. Gloria also owns Mountain View, Calif.-based Adema Technologies, which makes silicon ingots and sell them to customers such as Sanyo, SolarWorld and JA Solar. E-Ton, by the way, is a Gloria investor. Adema has a factory with 34 megawatts of capacity.
Gloria bought Adema in 2008 and is now turning into a general contractor for building solar power projects as well. Adema offers engineering, procurement and construction services.
Gloria only recently dissolved its joint venture with Spire. The two companies set up the joint venture in 2007 to offer solar power project engineering and construction services. Gloria and Spire parted ways because they wanted to pursue different segments of the solar business, said George Hsu, chief operational officer of Gloria.
Spire wanted to focus on the residential and commercial markets while Gloria aimed to win utility contracts, Hsu said.
Gloria currently has a deal to provide solar panels and installation services to a project developer who plans to build an 8.6-megawatt project in Arizona, Wu said. The developer already has signed a contract to sell the electricity from the project to a county government, said Wu, who declined to provide more details.
The project would give Gloria a chance to shine in the U.S. market. It's a potentially lucrative one, and has attracted no shortage of power project developers and solar panel makers from within the United States and from Europe and Asia vying for opportunities to build large projects.
A growing number of solar panel makers are entering the power plant engineering and construction business. Gloria will be competing against much larger players such as SunPower and First Solar (see PG&E to Buy 800MW From OptiSolar, SunPower and First Solar to Build 48MW Power Plant for Sempra). Or up against developers such as SunEdison and Renewable Ventures who buy panels and other equipment from various suppliers.
Gloria recently completed a 2.1-megawatt project in Spain and is looking for a buyer, Tsai said.
The company has a 70-megawatt solar panel factory, and plans to boost its capacity to 150 megawatts by the end of this year, Tsai said.
Gloria was ready to go public on the U.S. market toward the end of last year, but postponed it because the financial market was crumbling fast, Wu said.
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