Category Archives: solar energy innovation

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.

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.

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).

 

Happy 2010 Holidays from Morgan Solar!

Morgan Solar Sun Simba solar panel decorated for Christmas 2010
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from everyone at Morgan Solar!

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us this year – in providing investments or government grants, supplying the materials that go into building the Sun Simba, or coming up to talk with us and share ideas at conferences.

If we could ask one more thing from you in 2010, it would be to comment or give some thumbs on our proposal for a rooftop-mounted Sun Simba system on ClimateSpark. It’s a Toronto-based competition that is offering $10,000 to kickstart new ideas that will improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions in the City. The competition is meant to be a place where investors, experts, and community leaders can criticize (in the good sense) new ideas, strengthening and giving their owners the chance to fine-tune them before they are introduced to the market. Seriously, please evaluate our business plan for the rooftop solution – suggesting any challenges or opportunities we’re missing, and any ways we can accelerate its time to market.

Our office will be closed starting Friday, December 24, and opening back up January 3, 2011. Next year promises to be momentous for us, and we look forward to talking about setting up large-scale solar projects, navigating changing political landscapes, and entering new markets with you on this blog.

All the best!

The Morgan Solar team

P.S: Some easy, interesting reading for the holidays: The New York Times Magazine’s 10th Annual Year in Ideas. Particularly cool: turbine-free, oscillating wind panels; a continuous-movement train with upper pods that disengage and engage at stops; and the long-life-span Smartphone.

Our take on ‘innovation’

What does innovation mean?

Is it an idea that goes on to be commercially successful?

Is it the number of  patents per capita?

Map by Global Economic Watch, with data from Forbes.com

Is it the capacity for cultural exchange – like Richard Florida’s ‘Street-level Scene’, vibrant city streets filled with independent cafes, art galleries, and factory-turned-live-work spaces that allow people to express themselves in new, creative ways?

I’d like to talk about our take on innovation, because – fundamentally, we’re a technology company, inventing new ways to do things, hopefully better.

To us it’s not our sales projections, or the number of patents we’ve filed (although patents represent a significant portion of the value of this company). Despite our frequent visits to Balzac’s in Liberty Village, it’s not spending loads of time in fancy coffee shops coming up with new ideas (our first LSO prototype was tested at a very un-fancy In & Out Burger in the U.S. – the first sunny outdoor environment we had access to while traveling).

To us, innovation is really about the end goal – why you’re doing what you’re doing, and how to make that goal easier to achieve, and maybe at the same time making it simpler to get there. For us, the goal is to make clean energy affordable, and to do that, John Paul and our team of engineers and scientists have set about making a simpler solar panel that can be more easily deployed in places like Africa, India, as well as the industrialized world.

We were incredibly honoured last week for being awarded the inaugural Canadian Energy Innovation Award, sponsored jointly between the Association of Power Producers of Ontario, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.  The Award recognized our long-term research collaboration with the University of Ottawa SUNLab.  Together with Dr. Karin Hinzer and her team at the  SUNLab (the only lab in Canada researching high-efficiency cell design), over the next four years we’ll lab test, deploy, and monitor over 200 kW of Sun Simba panels.

Here is the awards video, which has some of the best visuals to date of the Sun Simba (thanks to the OCE’s videographer, Tom Korzeniowski):

To us, it isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation, it’s finding a new and better way to solve a problem.