How Automakers Can Help the Solar Industry

San Francisco–Skyline Solar is trying to live without factories.

The company, which has created a system that combines silicon solar cells with a concentrator,gets its solar cells from five different suppliers, said Tim Keating,vice president of marketing and operations of the company during ameeting at Intersolar taking place this week in San Francisco. It thenhires contract manufacturers to produce its modules.

And the concentrator? "We build them on auto body lines. There is alot of spare capacity for stamping metal out there," he said.

Whether or not concentrators for PV systems remains one of the big debates in the industry.VCs plunked millions into concentrators back in 2005 and 2006 becausedemand for silicon skyrocketed. After raw materials fell, people beganto question whether concentrators would ever pay off. To get aroundthis problem, of course, start-ups are trying to devise concentratorsout of cheaper and cheaper materials. Cool Earth Solar hasconcentrators made from 8-foot diameter Mylar balloons. (The balloonsrequire a pumping system to keep them full of air, which adds costs,but you get the idea.)

Stamped, reflective metal surfaces will be cheaper than mirrors, argues Keating.

Another really interesting thing about the design. Skyline mountsits solar modules onto the tracking system horizontally, rather thanvertically. It also positions the aluminum heat sink on the back of themodule so that the metal fins run vertically, rather than horizontally.This allows the heat sink to passively dissipate heat.

And if Skyline’s concept gets popular, you could start to see more panels that are Ford tough.

Keating, by the way, spent several years at Intel, making him one of the many of the former Blue Shirts entering the industry.



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