Inviting all students: Sustainable Engineers Association Conference @ University of Toronto

This Saturday, Nicolas Morgan (our co-founder and the original author of this blog) will be speaking at the 3rd Annual Sustainable Engineers Association (SEA) Sustainability Conference at U of T’s Hart House.

The conference is designed to bring together students of ALL disciplines who are passionate about sustainable development.

It seems like a good opportunity to refine a final year engineering project, or learn about what’s going on in industry/ government to consider career options. If you’re of the entrepreneurial bent, there’s a panel on that which may be of interest too.

The theme of the conference? Overcoming obstacles in sustainability. Nic will be on a panel discussing the future of energy; other key themes include transportation and public policy.

Here’s a run-down of the pertinent details:

Date: February 2nd, 2013, at 9 AM
Location: Hart House Great Hall. See the Hart House Website for directions.
Registration: $10 deposit via credit card, will be refunded to you in full only after checking in at the conference reception desk.

Breakfast and lunch will be provided.
Dress code: Business Casual

To register and for more conference details visit: http://sustainable-engineers.org/seac/.

2013.01_Sustainable Engineers Association

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Morgan Solar at SPI & CPV Summit USA 2012: A Systems Approach to CPV and PV Solar Installs

As module prices have bottomed out over the last couple years, there’s been a lot of talk of the increasing weight of BOS hardware and labour costs to solar farm costs.

At Solar Power International 2012 last month, we unveiled our solution to tackling significant cost reductions in these areas: the Savanna™ dual axis tracker for CPV and PV applications.  Savanna™ is a self-ballasted, lightweight mounting platform – requiring no concrete foundations, or heavy lifting equipment to install and maintain panels. It arrives at the field pre-wired, and can be set up manually using simple hand tools. It has very low end-of-life costs – it can be disassembled and redeployed elsewhere if needed. Essentially, we wanted to take the ‘IKEA’ approach to solar BOS equipment and installation, while achieving exceptional field performance.

In two weeks, at the 4th CPV USA Summit in San Jose, our CEO Asif Ansari and COO Eric Morgan will be elaborating more on our ‘systems approach’ to CPV installations. They’ll be speaking, Asif on the executive panel, and Eric in a session (details on the summit website to come), on how a competitive CPV module is only part of an ultra-low cost CPV solution. They will touch on key innovations in tracking systems, inverters, and system integration that are leading the way to all-in cost reductions for CPV systems. And how requirements for specialized capital equipment, and labour-intensive module fabrication and installation, will limit CPV scalability.

There’ve been increasing innovations on the non-module side in the PV sector, and many were on display at SPI 2012 – module-integrated microinverters, module-integrated grounding plates, tracker robots. At the CPV USA Summit, it will be exciting  to hear about how the CPV sector is picking up this challenge.

Photo: Our SPI 2012 booth, showcasing the turnkey Sun Simba™ CPV system on the left, and the Savanna™ tracker platform for PV applications on the right.

The Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program – and intelligent blends of public-private investment to cross the ‘Valley of Death’

Last Friday, we were thrilled to be selected as 1 of 5 pre-qualified innovations in Toronto that the Federal Government may buy and test via its Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program.  In total, 36 innovations qualified across Canada, in what is the program’s second round. The full press release is available here.

As an added bonus, Public Works and Government Services Canada, who administer the CICP program, organized an event at 30 Ordnance to announce the  Toronto innovations. We had the great honour of hosting the Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister of the Asia-Pacific Gateway, as well as his PWGSC colleagues, representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI), and other companies who either were selected for the program, or who are interested in applying for the next round.

Here are some photos I took from the morning, starting with John Paul explaining the Sun Simba™  technology to Minister Fast, as his father Eric Morgan (left), also the Strategic Advisor to our Board, and Manny Agiropoulos from PWGSC, look on.

Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program Media Event

John Paul Morgan, CTO of Morgan Solar, explains the Sun Simba™ technology to Minister Fast.

CICP Media Event - the Honourable Ed Fast's Speech

Minister Fast announces the Toronto-based innovations that qualified for the CICP Program, and speaks of the importance of innovation to the Canadian economy. Nic Morgan spoke after on the value of Canada's R&D support to companies like Morgan Solar.

Mantech, Morgan Solar, and Minister Fast announcing CICP pre-qualified companies
From left to right: Robert Menegotto, President of Mantech Inc.; the Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; Nicolas Morgan, VP Biz Dev of Morgan Solar; John Paul Morgan; CTO of Morgan Solar; and Manny Agiropoulos, Chief of SME Stakeholder Engagement at Public Works and Government Services Canada. 

My initial impression from mentioning CICP to others in the industry is that it’s a little lesser known than other Federal and Provincial commercialization programs, perhaps because it’s relatively new. It fills a much-needed gap though, which is the space between the R&D support programs that have a hard stop at your first sale – e.g. Ontario’s Innovation Demonstration Fund and the Federal Sustainable Development Technology Fund Canada – and the incentives that governments offer more established companies to locate R&D and/ or manufacturing, and their associated jobs, in a given place – e.g. Ontario’s Strategic Jobs and Investment Fund.

That’s why programs like CICP, which encourage early adopters to purchase a new technology for demonstration, are so valuable. They represent  “intelligent blends of public and private investment”, as a 2005 Forbes article on new technology commercialization put it, that help start-ups traverse that affectionately called ‘Valley of Death’ – the gulf between R&D completion stage, and successful commercialization.

Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff 2011 Program Review

It’s been a WHILE since posting and for that I apologize. There’s been a lot of cool (and time-consuming) stuff going on here. Like this, and this. We’re also in the process of setting up our largest internal test site to date, in Southern California. Info to be posted once it’s available.

What I wanted to talk about: today’s the last day that the OPA is accepting feedback on its Feed-in Tariff Program, and even though it’s late in the game, I thought I’d share one of our recommendations.

It’s definitely not the most pressing program change that’s needed. Sitting in on CanSIA’s Small, Large, and Manufacturer Working Groups, I can appreciate that  it probably doesn’t even fit on the top 30 of the pressing issues that the Program Review is set up to address. Even for us, a Domestic Content grid for CPV is something we want to see posted before this.

But, if you’re thinking long term, and for policies that could work beyond the Ontario border, here’s a modest suggestion:

Disclaimer: all credit for this idea comes from Glen Schrader, of Bright Ray Solar, our distributor in Ontario. Glen’s a smart guy, and he’s based in Guelph – being removed from the everyday-running-around that happens at 30 Ordnance probably also helps to see the big picture.

Recommendation: Allocate a portion of FIT contracts for new, innovative renewable technologies.

  1. Along with timely decisions on Domestic Content rules, allocating a portion of FIT contracts for new technologies lowers the barriers to entry that exist for them. Local markets are easiest to develop and new technology companies can use them to establish credibility.
  2. There is considerable value to new technology companies locating in the province, including IP, high-tech jobs, and the potential for export. New technologies should in principle also offer increased efficiencies, lower costs, higher peak-use generation, or added capabilities such as energy storage.
  3. These new technologies don’t necessarily have to be invented here, but they should be primarily developed here – and this itself could attract companies to start up here (like us, who chose to locate here for a number of different reasons).
  4. A carve-out for new technologies ensures that grid capacity will exist for these technologies, which take more time to reach high market penetration.
  5. Other incentives could also be considered to encourage project developers and/ or customers to deploy new technologies. The Province may be best suited to determine the correct policy response, but these could include rate adders (for generation whose key feature is not lower costs, i.e. energy storage, peak-use generation), or accelerated approvals.

Ontario will find it tough (not saying  impossible) to compete with China on the cost of manufacturing traditional silicon solar panels. Policymakers already realize the need to play to the province’s strength for innovation – be it in efficiencies, costs, energy storage or time of day generation. In the way it was set up, the FIT program essentially guaranteed rates for generation projects using technology developed in 2009 – what we need is rates, and other policies, for 2015 technology.

As always, your thoughts welcome.

Morgan Solar is Hiring. A lot.

Funny story. At the Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery 2011 conference last week, we mentioned to a lot of the graduate students, and others, that Morgan Solar planned to hire half a dozen positions this month.  Many of the students were there because in their university or college programs they had developed their own, fairly cutting-edge renewable technologies. One of these technologies was a working horizontal wind turbine, from George Brown College, whose team won first place in the student competition. Naturally, these are the type of people that you’d want to hire.

Anyways, at one point, a very eager young individual came up to the booth and said, “I hear Morgan Solar is offering jobs. Hi.” It was the way it was said, as if we were giving out jobs like they were a dime-a-dozen conference giveaway. I had to have a laugh, and eventually when I explained why, he did too.

But the fact is, we are hiring a lot this month. In the past two days, I’ve posted 4 jobs to our Careers page, and that’s on top of the Quality Manager position that is the subject of the previous blog post. Here are what we are hiring for:

Edit: We’re happy to say we’ve found excellent candidates to fill all of the below openings. Check www.morgansolar.com/careers for new postings.

1. an Automation Engineer (5+ experience a must, experience with PLC, machine controls also essential)

2. a Manufacturing Engineer (2+ years experience, with good co-op placements taken into consideration as part of this)

3. a Design Engineer (B.Sc. in Mechanical Engingeering/ similar is required, plus 0-10 years in a related position; new grads are welcome to apply)

4. a Materials Scientist/ Materials Engineer (B.Sc. in Materials Science Engineer/ similar, and 2-5 years in a relevant position)

Please spread the word to anyone you think would be good for these jobs. We have a 33-strong, motivated and dynamic team, and look forward to adding more brilliant, hard-wording minds to the mix.

Morgan Solar is Hiring A Quality Manager

Note: This position is now filled. 

We’re very happy to announce we’ve posted a new job opening for a Quality Manager to our website.

We are looking for a highly motivated, experienced individual to develop and put in place quality control best practices in our Toronto manufacturing facility. This is an exciting opportunity to craft quality standards and processes for a groundbreaking new technology moving rapidly from manual to high-throughput, automated manufacturing.

Global travel to suppliers and installation sites will be required.

More jobs to be posted soon, so please check back.

What We Presented at CPV-7: The Gen 3 Sun Simba Optic

A few weeks ago, someone asked me if we had a dev blog. I said we had one ‘of sorts’, because, in contrast to most dev blogs I’ve seen, such as this one, you won’t find html codes, software algorithms, or physics principles expounded here. Our approach has been to make the technology accessible to technical and non-technical audiences alike.

That said, I realize that some people are genuinely interested in this stuff. And, while IP protection and some degree of secrecy are facts of life for any early-stage technology company, we try to be open and transparent – as much as is possible without compromising our or our partners’ ability to operate. For anyone interested, technical background or not, here are some recent, fairly techy developments for our first product to market, the Sun Simba – a lot of this coming from a poster presentation made at CPV-7 by Dr. Stefan Myrskog, our Director of Science. I’ve also written out the answers to common questions asked to Stefan during his poster pres below.

The main development is that the market-ready version of the Sun Simba has evolved from a square shape to a hexagonal shape. We’ve mentioned the new hex design in some places before, but here will outline some of the considerations that went into the decision, its benefits, as well as other advancements.

1. Increased active area.

Sun Simba Generation 2 versus Generation 3 comparison

The optic’s corners have the longest path length to the optic’s centre, so contribute less to performance. Moving from a square to hex shape reduced the maximum and average path lengths, improving angular performance and increasing the overall proportion of photons sent to the III-V cell per optic.

Not central to the hex shape, but key to increasing efficency, we eliminated the mirror that had deflected light down at the centre of the optic in the Gen 2 version. The result is that the centre of the Gen 3 optic is now a light-collecting surface.

Importantly, since no outer frame is required, no dead space is created when tiling the hexagonal optics together.

2. Increased acceptance angle.

By getting rid of the square’s corners, and via other design optimizations, we increased the acceptance angle of the optic from 0.75 degrees half angle to 0.9 degree half angle.

3. Less material costs.

The Gen 2 square optic was 200 mm by 200 mm, whereas the Gen 3 is a hex is 200 mm across when measured between parallel faces.  This means that Gen 3 has roughly 90% of the surface area of Gen 2 but, surprisingly, produces slightly more power.  Gen 3 is also thinner, making it even lighter.  So a lighter, smaller part, producing more energy.

The Sun Simba was designed to be made of low cost commodity materials. The Gen 3 represents a further advancement: reducing the materials and weight of the module.

FAQs from CPV-7

Q1. How does acrylic, which makes up most of our optic by weight, last in the field over time?

A1.  There are many grades of acrylic, a material that was originally developed in the late 1920s as a shatter-resistant alternative to glass during World War II. Some grades degrade considerably when exposed to the elements. We chose the grade we did because of its superior weathering properties; a UV-resistant optical-grade PMMA for which the vendor had over 20 years of outdoor performance and degradation data. Transmission changes over time are marginal in this type of PMMA.

Q2. How do the small concentric ridges on the optic’s surface weather dirt and dust when compared with flat plate panels?

A2. We’ve had a test site outside of our facility in Toronto for over a year. Despite being next to a major highway (the Gardiner Expressway), our scientists have not observed significantly more sullying of our optics when compared with a reference flat piece of glass.

We extensively studied dirt capture during the development phase of our products.  Research into how materials soil, and how surface energy influences dust accumulation, gave us guidance on the angle at which acrylic can be molded and still have dirt or dust blown or blasted out of its crevices by air currents/ pressure, or water.

In Sum:

The basic physical principles that inform the Sun Simba design have stayed constant since the beginning: a wave-guided optic that eliminates the need for focal distance, and that is extremely durable in the field over time. We have refined this concept to the current, market-ready iteration, which has increased efficiency, increased acceptance angle, and lowered costs as compared to the Gen 2 Sun Simba.

Electricity Prices Go Up Regardless

Ontario will be having an election this October, and the Green Energy Act is being raised as an issue.  I’ve decided to write this post before I know what different candidates are saying, because I’m not trying to favour one side or the other so much as discuss a point of view.

To start, I’ve heard people criticize the Green Energy Act on the basis that it will increase people’s electricity bills. It will.  But what that objection implies is that somehow, electricity prices would stay the same otherwise.  This is false.  Electricity rates are going up, period.

Why?  For starters, coal, oil and natural gas are all getting more expensive to mine or extract, and consumption for all three is increasing rapidly in China, India and other high-growth economies.  Demand for electricity is increasing in general, and where populations are growing it’s increasing even faster. In Ontario, our generation and distribution infrastructure is old, inefficient and in need of significant and expensive upgrades.  This means that it is getting more and more expensive just to keep things going at current levels, ignoring the fact that we’re already at the very edge of rolling blackouts every summer.  Added to that, some sort of cost for carbon emissions is starting to look inevitable (regardless of your opinion on global warming, that’s just political reality right now), and our current infrastructure still relies too heavily on coal.  I could go on, but you get the point.

NASA Satellite Images of the 2003 blackout in the North Eastern US and Ontario

The 2003 Blackout - The most dramatic recent example of how fragile our power grid can be.

To emphasize: No matter what we do, the price of electricity is going to go up. So, if you’re going to pay more, what would you like to buy with those extra dollars? There are many options, but here are two:

Option # 1: Invest minimally, keep electricity costs low (for now)

Some people will argue that we should spend and invest as little as possible, and our goal should be to keep electricity rates as low as possible now.  This means we don’t focus on any of the serious upgrades we badly need, and we keep importing extremely expensive power when we can’t generate enough in the summer.  This scenario assumes we don’t have to shut down any of the nuclear power plants, and we keep all of our current coal plants running. Electricity costs will still go up, but in the next few years, the increases will probably be slower. Once the growing costs of nuclear power plant maintenance, carbon taxes, rising fossil fuel prices and the long term health costs to the people living downwind from coal fired stations start to add up, things can easily very expensive, very quickly. In the long term, we’ll pay much more, and we’ll get little more than the status quo to show for it.  (And remember, all of the GTA and an overwhelming majority of the people in Ontario live downwind from Nanticoke, literally the most polluting coal plant in the Western Hemisphere.)

Option #2: Invest in a long term energy plan, stabilize and possibly reduce prices over the long term

The other alternative is to invest.  Reasonable people can disagree on the best way to invest, or even if that is a better course of action, and the Green Energy Act is absolutely not the only model for investing in a better energy future for Ontario.

With the Green Energy Act, we are paying more for electricity than we would otherwise. The extra money is used for several things: extensive upgrades to Ontario’s electrical distribution and generation infrastructure, aggressive efficiency and power reduction targets, and direct stimulation of renewable energy development via feed-in tariffs. Feed-in tariffs are controversial. They have been a disaster for Spain and Italy, but have had astonishing results in Germany and Japan.  The Ontario Green Energy Act was built with a specific set of long term goals in mind: job creation; increasing our clean energy supply; steadily lowering the price of renewable energy in Ontario by growing the market; eliminating coal-fired power plants; and, broadly speaking, avoiding instability in supplies and electricity price shocks, thereby keeping long term electricity costs low.

I can’t say if the all of the goals set out in Green Energy Act will be reached, and I certainly can’t say if it’s the best way to reach these goals.  But the goals seem worth trying to reach, and so far things seem to be working well. Unlike Spain or Italy, the OPA and the province have shown they can react quickly to make changes as needed in a timely and reasonably transparent manner. The uncertainty over the future of the Act is preventing a few companies from moving here or investing too much in Ontario operations, but in general, we’re seeing a fast growing solar energy sector.

Personally, I’d want to see strong evidence that the act wasn’t working, or that the added cost to electricity was having a clear negative effect on the province before I could be convinced it should be repealed.  Even then, there would need to be an alternate plan for our energy future, with clear goals and a way to reach them. It’s my opinion, but I strongly believe that doing nothing and focusing on the short term price of electricity without considering the bigger picture will be a bad strategy in the long run.

Relevant reading:

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) World Energy Outlook 2010 Fact Sheet

OPA’s Q4 2010 Progress Report on Electricity Supply


CPV in France

John Paul was in a different European country every day last week. Exhilarating, but probably exhausting.

On one of these days, he was in France meeting with SolarQuest, who we are partnering with on a medium-scale demo site in their home city, Aix-en-Provence. The regional newspaper La Provence wrote about the visit in this article, which gives an overview of the relationship between both early-stage companies. The article resolution isn’t great – apologies – but essentially, SolarQuest specializes in project development, we’ll supply Sun Simbas for a demo site, and we hope to grow the relationship beyond this.

It’s a fairly obvious point, but partnerships like this are key when trying to enter new markets – the business development, sales, commissioning, service and support resources and know-how can quickly become overwhelming. Regional partners that have these core competencies can be valuable tools for any solar energy start-up looking to expand.

A shorter write up from La Provence is available online, in better res, here: Morgan Solar: l’ami Canadien du SolarQuest.

I have to admit though, beyond knowing that the DNI is decent (5.7 kWh/ sq. m in the South), and that the government just put a 4-month moratorium on some solar projects while it drafts new FIT regulations, I don’t know a whole lot about the CPV or PV market in the country. Anything exciting going on that you know about?

Update:

This just in from the Photon Newsletter (Feb. 24, 2011): The French Government introduced a 500MW annual cap for photovoltaic installations and a 20% reduction of the feed-in-tariffs

(The Feb .22 Press Release from the French Government is here).

 

Ontario Test Site no. 3: a rooftop system, but not the Sun Simba Rooftop

Last week, our third test site in Ontario went up. Six Sun Simba panels. I really wish I could say where, but we can’t yet. Keep posted.

Sun Simba Test Site on Parking Garage Roof

View of Generation Two Sun Simba solar panels on a parking garage roof in winter.

For now, you can see it’s mounted on a commercially-available tracking system and supported by a particularly strong parking garage roof; this isn’t the Sun Simba Rooftop.

Six Sun Simba panels installed on a parking garage roof.

To recap, our first test site is just outside of our facility here at 30 Ordnance St. Actually, we recently installed the same tracker at Ordnance as above, and I haven’t yet posted photos to the blog (It looked like this before). Here’s one (just set up & pre-tracking) I really like:

Sun Simba panels mounted on commercial tracker, downtown Toronto

For those who follow us on Twitter, I had posted a link to the above photo there before. Yes, we were highly skeptical of tweeting before, but so far have found it’s pretty useful for finding out about industry info, policy changes, or funding opportunities like this one quickly, and for meeting some pretty interesting, active people, beyond the solar industry – which is also good.

Details of the second test site were posted here. That one also didn’t have location information. Again, can’t wait til we can share lots more data – not only location, but performance too.