Soliant Energy has found a new CEO to push its business across the commercialization line.
Terry Bailey, who hailed from solar panel maker Evergreen Energy, will lead Soliant effective immediately, the company said Tuesday.
Monrovia, Calif.-based Soliant makes concentrating photovoltaic systems, which use lenses to concentrate the sunlight 500 times and direct it to solar cells for electricity generation. This approach garnered a strong interest from investors starting several years ago, when solar panel makers a faced silicon shortage.
Silicon is the key ingredient in most of the solar panels on the market today. Concentrating PV companies said their equipment could produce cheaper electricity because it could generate the same amount of energy with smaller solar cells in their panels.
“CPV is not seen as a wide spread yet, but it’s getting to the point where it's ready to be deployed, especially for Soliant,” said Bailey, who was Evergreen’s senior vice president of marketing and sales for over five years. Marlboro, Mass.-based Evergreen (NSDQ: ESLR) makes silicon solar panels.
Soliant is getting a new captain as it works on making that big move to commercial production. The company, which was founded by former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists in 2005, opened a 1-megawatt pilot production facility at its headquarters in August.
Earlier this year, the company was expecting to be able to produce 5 megawatts of equipment per year by the first half of 2010, and 20 megawatts per year in 2011 (see Can Concentrator Company Live Off Big Roofs Alone?)
Soliant also was hoping to see some of its customers install its systems by the end of this year. The company is targeting flat commercial rooftops, where space availability can be an issue and Soliant’s concentrators could be more cost-effective than conventional solar panels. It would focus on the U.S. market first.
Bailey is tightlipped about the company’s manufacturing plans, which he said would depend largely on market demand and the company’s ability to expand production.
The company’s customers have yet to install Soliant’s equipment yet. Soliant plans to ship products soon, said Marco DeMiroz, who became Soliant's interim CEO in spring this year and replaced Art Buckland.
The company has already experienced delays. When it raised about $22 million from investors such as GE Energy Financial Services last fall, it had aimed to open a 40-megawatt factory by the end of 2009.
Concentrating PV companies are facing tough times cracking the solar market. With the price of silicon falling by 50 percent or more in the past year, skepticism is rising about concentrating PV developers’ abilities to compete.
Although the solar cells used in concentrators are smaller, they also tend use the more expensive semiconductors such as germanium, gallium and indium. A concentrating solar system also typically comes with a tracker to tilt the panel to follow the sun’s movement throughout the day, and that adds to the cost.
“The fact is, the CPV market is taking a lot longer to develop than expected. And VCs have a limited number of tools in their toolkit. They can stop giving funds, give more funds, or make C-level personnel changes,” wrote GTM Research analyst Eric Wesoff in a recent blog post.
Soliant has figured that electricity from its equipment could cost 40 percent to 50 percent lower than that from conventional panels, DeMiroz said. The estimate refers to the levelized cost of energy, takes into account the costs of installing all the equipment – not just Soliant’s system – and labor.
Bailey declined to disclose the company’s manufacturing cost, but added that it’s similar to the production costs of silicon solar panels. Some large silicon solar panel makers already have reached – or close to achieve – a production cost of below $2 per watt.
DeMiroz, who was a partner at Trinity Ventures, a Soliant investor, said he plans to stick around at Soliant in the short term to help Bailey settle in.
“Our board looked for an executive who not only knows the sector but has an incredible vision to take Soliant to the next stage of growth in the industry,” DeMiroz said. “We are delighted to have Terry on board.”
DeMiroz said he also will be carrying out certain “strategic initiatives” at Soliant. He does want to return to venture investing in the long term, though he said he won’t be going back to Trinity.
Soliant plans to raise another round of funding in late 2010, and Bailey declined to say how much.