Utility Scale Solar, maker of tracking devices for solar thermal installations, plans to try out its technology with clients over the next several months, and is looking for $6 million in first-round funding to do it, reports VentureWire.
Based in Palo Alto, Calif., the company is in the last stages of developing single and dual-axis gearless tracking systems that it claims will increase efficiency and lower operation costs. It will use its new money to produce enough of these devices for five customers for testing.
Utility Scale Solar’s goal is to lower the price of solar plants to the extent that they are on par with coal and natural plants. Many of the devices used to turn mirrors and solar cells to capture sunlight (called heliostats) are very expensive, it says. In fact, heliostats can sometimes account for as much as 50 percent of normal operation costs, and 40 percent of maintenance costs for solar fields. Utility Scale Solar’s heliostats, called Megahelions, are expected to cost 35 to 50 percent less than mainstream models, and lower operation costs by as much as 25 percent.
The Megahelion is different from typical heliostats because it lacks gears and is composed of only six moving parts. These two attributes allow for a smoother pivoting motion, and lower maintenance costs accordingly, the company claims. The devices are also said to be compatible with a range of mirrors and photovoltaic panels and cells, potentially saving replacement costs. On top of that, their tracking accuracy can boost the amount of sunlight caught by 30 percent in some cases.
Using a Megahelion, a solar installation can produce one kilowatt-hour for 6 cents. This is actually cheaper than fossil fuel facilities, considering that a coal-fired plant produces one kilowatt-hour for 7 cents, and a natural gas plant produces one kilowatt-hour for 8 cents, Utility Scale Solar says. But these figures are not consistent across the board. Some coal plants report costs as low as 2 to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. And some natural gas plants say one kilowatt-hour costs between 5.5 and 15.9 cents. Then again, typical concentrated solar arrays range from 13 to 16 cents per kilowatt-hour, so the Megahelion still promises a definite improvement.
Founded just last year, Utility Scale Solar used $1 million from a sold convertible note to get started. While it needs capital to design and distribute its products, it plans to outsource manufacturing of its devices to an undisclosed third-party facility.