Innovalight pushes solar ink to record efficiency

Innovalight, maker of liquid-like silicon cells that convert sunlight into energy, announced that its product has achieved 18 percent efficiency, a record for so-called solar inks. Given that typical solar panels are 12 percent efficient on average, this is quite the achievement — especially considering all of the unique applications for solar cells that you can print straight onto silicon.

Verified by both the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Reneable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, the 18 percent figure (even if its the best and not the average) pushes solar ink that much closer to wide adoption. It should also be helped along by the $3 million subcontract it just received through NREL. Innovalight says it will continue to work on the technology at its Sunnyvale, Calif. headquarters, hoping to up the conversion efficiency even more to 20 percent. With crystalline silicon solar systems making up 86 percent of the solar panel business today, the company has huge market potential.

Using solar ink both hastens and cheapens panel production because not as much silicon is required. By pairing this messaging with its new achievement, Innovalight hopes to grow its brand and build hype before going commercial. Ultimately, the company plans to sell its solar ink and license its technology to solar manufacturers. It says it already has six customers lined up, and plans to scale its 100 megawatt solar ink factory to 1 gigawatt.

But if it wants to keep an edge, Innovalight will need to keep working on the efficiency piece. Even though its best beats out typical solar cells’ average, other companies are fetching conversion efficiencies of more than 20 percent — even up to 40 percent. SunPower, a force to be reckoned with in the solar space, says it is mass producing cells with 22 percent efficiencies. These technologies — particular thin-film solar cells — are already becoming price competitive with what Innovalight has to offer. And with silicon prices dropping, affordability isn’t as compelling as it used to be.

Innovalight has raised $40 million in capital to date from Arch Venture Partners, Apax Partners, Convexa Capital, Harris & Harris and Seven Rosen Funds.

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