Amid all the excitement about new solar technology, several promising companies are slipping on their delivery dates.
However, most of the companies still say they plan to deliver — it’s just a matter of time before they hit the market
Solyndra, a Santa Clara, Calif. solar company (see VB’s coverage), has seen one of its executives, Monier Nessim leave, after that company returned to more basic research and development, instead of push on toward production. Investors Redpoint and CMEA did not respond to a request for comment. The company could not be reached for comment. The company recently raised $79 million.
Meanwhile Palo Alto, Calif. start-up Nanosolar saw the departure of Chris Eberspacher, a recognized expert in solar “thin film” technology. Like Solyndra and several other companies, Nanosolar’s thin film approach uses a new flexible compound called CIGS for its solar cell material. The cells are cheaper to make, and can used for coating on large expanses of roofs and parking lots. The question surrounding them, however, is whether they will be efficient enough at converting the sun’s energy to be able to compete with silicon solar cells.
CIGS stands for copper-indium-gallium-selenide, and is made of those four elements.
Eberspacher was chief scientist at Nanosolar, and it isn’t clear why he left (see CNET Michael Kanellos’ story here, which first talked about the departure). CEO Martin Roscheisen said Nanosolar’s timing is still on track. While several years ago he suggested informally that the technology might be ready by 2006, that was never a firm date, he said. He said things are going well, and that Eberspacher’s departure does not impact the company. Werner Dumanski, who previously ran IBM’s storage disk R&D, product development, and manufacturing operations, has taken over Eberspacher’s job. He said: “Werner is the right guy in charge of this in this phase of our company.”
Eberspacher, meanwhile, is in talks to join Miasole, a Santa Clara, Calif. company doing something similar with CIGS. However, Miasole itself has slipped more noticeably. David Pearce, chief executive, had said in 2005 and 2006 his company would be in full production by now, but that hasn’t happened. (CNET’s Kanellos has another good story about this here.) Pearce tells VentureBeat that while the company has gotten its solar cells to the eight percent efficiency rate needed to grab a large market share, he hasn’t been able to do that in real production conditions — but that he hopes to soon. He plans to roll out production this summer.
He points to competitor First Solar, an Arizona publicly traded company that now has the highest market value ($5 billion) of any solar company. It uses thin-film solar technology too, but applies telluride, not CIGS. The company took 15 years of tinkering and testing before its cells became competitive. Telluride is much less efficient than CIGS in a lab setting, for instance. Its product began at six percent efficiency, but by last year it reached the desirable range of eight percent. That sparked demand so great that First Solar sold out of its product. First Solar went public in November. Now the company’s cells boast a nine percent efficiency. While that efficiency is still below that of silicon — used by companies such as SunPower ($4 billion market value) — it is much lower in cost, and so is still more desirable.
So it takes time. Pearce said he replaced Tim Starkey, his executive vice president of operations, with someone with more technical depth. He hired Stephen Barry, a thin film expert from the data storage industry, as vice president of operations, and Dallas Meyer, formerly at Seagate, as vice president engineering. He’s also in the process of raising more money, and has finished raising a significant portion of that — at a valuation that is higher than the round Miasole raised last October, from both new and existing backers. He expects to wrap up the rest by early July.
In separate but related to green tech:
See two-part series the Mercury News recently ran this week about California’s energy challenge:
And finally, see the unfortunate piece today about the Bush administration making a pro-auto industry pitch to members of Congress, urging them to oppose California’s efforts to enforce tough emissions standards on vehicles. The language of these pitches sounded suspiciously as if it were taken directly from the car lobby, according to the report.