Even though solar power is recognized as a non-polluting, unlimitedsource of energy, we still generate less than 1% of total energyconsumption from this renewable source. Although solar has the power torevolutionize the way the world consumes energy, it’s not being used toits full potential.
For solar to become an integral part of the world’s energy supply, costs have to come down and efficiency has to increase. Today’s mostefficient solar cells hover around 15% – only a small amount of energyfrom the sun is converted into electricity. That means large numbers ofexpensive solar panels are required to generate meaningful amounts ofelectricity.
Instead of focusing on improving the efficiency of solar cells, SantaBarbara, Calif.-based HyperSolar has a patent-pending technology basedon photonics (the science of guiding light) – it concentrates sunlighton a solar cell in much the same way as a magnifying glass would.
By marrying the principles of solar concentration and cutting edgephotonics techniques, HyperSolar is developing the world’s first thinand flat solar concentrator for direct placement on top of existingsolar cells. This thin, flat optical layer can inexpensively collectand deliver substantially more sunlight onto conventional solar cells,allowing them to produce multiple times more power.
HyperSolar’s technology dramatically reduces the number of solar cellsneeded in a solar panel. Using fewer solar cells means using lesssilicon, which greatly lowers the cost per watt of electricity.
Using less silicon also reduces employee exposure to lung diseasesilicosis, currently a problem in the solar cell manufacturing process.
In addition, unlike the bulky solar concentrators that are used intoday’s concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems, which employ opticaldevices such as mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight, HyperSolar’stechnology is a thin, flat layer that can be applied on the surface ofconventional flat solar panel designs.
HyperSolar’s ability to concentrate the power of the sun is based on four primary innovations:
- Micro-concentrators — A matrix of small, highly efficient solarconcentrators collect sunlight from a wide range of angles, eliminating the need for tracking mechanisms
- Photonics light routing — A solid-state photonics networkunderneath the micro-concentrators transports light from collectionpoints at the top to the concentrated output points at the bottom
- Photonics light separation — The photonics network separatescollected sunlight into different spectrum ranges, which can be routedto different types of solar cells
- Photonics thermal management — The heat from unused portions ofthe solar spectrum is filtered out, thus avoiding overheating, which can degrade solar cell performance
As of September 2010, HyperSolar (HYSR.OB) started trading over thecounter. The company expects to enter into partnership with a solarpanel manufacturer within a year, anticipates that its technology,manufacturing processes and know-how will be licensed to a wide range of manufacturers for turnkey production of HyperSolar layers to be usedwith existing technology and equipment.
Currently, the company is entering the initial prototyping phase whichwill produce a demonstration-sized version of the technology. Once thedesign is refined, HyperSolar will work with select partners for theremainder of the development phase to build a commercial-grade designand manufacturing process.
Although the company’s initial HyperSolar layer will be tailored to thecrystalline-silicon market, they also plan to offer designs forthin-film and other solar applications.
One of the biggest challenges HyperSolar faces as they finalize thedesign for their proof of concept prototype is creating a modulardesign. It’s important that the structure of their "thin and flat"layer be easily manufactured and assembled to fit into current solarmanufacturing processes. To meet this challenge, the company recentlyadded a Director of Technology with in-depth knowledge of photonics andoptics and extensive experience delivering commercial-ready products.
The durability and cost effectiveness of materials used in HyperSolar’slayer are also a critical element in the development of thistechnology. The company is investigating various polymers and glassesthat are both inexpensive and hold up in intense sun for at least 20years.
The potential market for HyperSolar is enormous. The solar market isdoubling every two years – the current solar capacity of 15 GW isanticipated to grow 120 times to more than 1.8 terawatts by 2030. Andthat’s without having yet achieved grid parity.
The implications of grid parity are almost beyond the power ofimagination. A world powered by solar will mean a world withoutpetro-dictators, without landscapes despoiled by coal mining, withoutseas polluted by oil spills or accumulations of spent fuel rods fromnuclear power plants.
The slow demise of the fossil fuel-based economy will no doubt bringeconomic dislocations in the short term, but will ultimately lead to acleaner, safer world in which the ability to harness the power of thesun will bring increased comfort, convenience and prosperity to peoplearound the globe.
Tim Young is President and CEO of HyperSolar, Inc.