Category Archives: Solar Technology

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).

 

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.

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.

Morgan Solar’s Activities in California and in Ontario

Sebastian Martinez with Governor Shwarzenneger

A couple of weeks ago, while I was at the OSEA-APPrO show in Toronto, the other 3 members of Morgan Solar’s Biz Dev team attended Governor Schwarzenegger’s 3rd Global Climate Summit in Davis, California.  At the Summit, Schwarzenegger announced the R20: Regions of Climate Action, a new global initiative that aims to leverage the flexibility and momentum of subnational governments and other actors to combat climate change, and to build a green economy globally.  We think it has lots of potential, are are excited to see how the partnership unfolds.

Schwarzenegger also toured the tradeshow floor, and my colleague Sebastian got the chance to explain the Sun Simba to him.  Schwarzenegger commented that the technology was interesting , and that he was happy the California Energy Commission had given us support to enter the Californian market.

On that note, there’s been some concern from our friends and contacts in Ontario that doing business in the Sunshine State will take us away from our home province.  We’d like to reiterate that this isn’t the case. Our R & D operations and head office will remain in Toronto, and we will set up manufacturing facilities in Ontario to the scale that  the provincial, and eventually national, market will bear.

We can count at least three really important factors keeping us here:

1.  The proximity to several high-ranking universities and the local talent.  We have now brought together a world class team of engineers, optical scientists, and professionals; of our 30 full-time employees, 24 are graduates of Ontario universities or colleges, and three have obtained or in the final stages of obtaining PhDs.

2. The highly supportive government policies, programs, and people.  Ontario has also proven a good place to attract private investment.  To date we have raised $8.2 million from a mix of strategic investors and venture capitalists (including two Toronto-based VCs), and over $5 million from the Ontario and Federal governments.  If we were in San Jose, we would be one of 30 or 40 energy start-ups.  So far, we’ve found it’s better to be the growing fish in the smaller pond.

3. We genuinely like living here, and so do our employees.  In fact, Morgan Solar’s even attracted people here, contributing significant ‘brain gain’ to the province: in August we hired the former CEO of the California-based Concentrated Solar Thermal developer eSolar as our CEO.  Asif is considered one of the most successful start-up CEOs in the solar energy world, and has led the development and commercialization of over 20 technical products in the cleantech and aerospace markets.  Earlier this year we attracted Sean Carton, our Vice-President of Manufacturing, from Nypro Inc., one of our strategic investors, in Boston.  Sean has over 26 years experience in setting up automated production lines for numerous Fortune 500 companies.  Our new CEO and VP of Manufacturing had to relocate to Toronto because the high level work is and will continue to be here.

A final reason – Ontario is an important market for us: it is one of the first we are entering; as said, we plan to deploy as many systems as the market will bear; and it will always get a first look at our latest innovations.  That said, California is and will continue to be one of our largest and most important markets.

Later, markets such as Southern Europe, India, Africa, and the Middle East will come to be as important as Ontario and the U.S. Southwest.  In this respect, it is worth restating Morgan Solar’s vision, which is to make solar energy the most widely used and affordable power source in the world.

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.