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Creating (Not Overly) Disruptive Changes in Solar Manufacturing

Jul 14, 2009

When blazing a new trail, sometimes it helps to walk the path already trodden. That's what the solar start-up 1366 Technologies is doing.

The company, which sells itself as enabling “solar cheaper than coal,” is working to commercialize new manufacturing techniques that will increase the efficiency of multicrystalline solar cells. It is doing this with three methods: “Honeycomb” texturing the surface of a cell to increase its surface area and capture more sun; grooving the interconnect wires to allow sunlight to bounce around the module and mitigate the problems of bus-bar shading; and also making the metalization lines — which export the energy from the cell — smaller, cheaper and more efficient.

By doing all this with manufacturing techniques that can be integrated into existing manufacturing lines, 1366 hopes to pump out an 18% efficient multicrystalline cell in high volume and produce solar that is competitive with coal by 2013. ::continue::

“It's all about the machines,” said Craig Lund, Business Development Manager for the Massachusetts-based company. “The most important thing for us is innovation that you can plug into the existing supply chain.”

I spoke with Lund this morning at the Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco.

A ground-breaking technology is only as good as its ability to integrate into the already-established infrastructure, said Lund. By selling machines to manufacturers already in operation, the company can potentially ramp up very quickly.

“If you have to come up with a new machine or a new process that requires everyone downstream of you to adjust their manufacturing process, or requires some of your upstream partners to change some of the feedstock, it's going to take five to ten years to get a technology to market,” he said. “With ours, it's a lot faster.”

1366 Technologies just received an order for the first of its texturing machines and it has already licensed the light-trapping ribbon technology to two companies. The Department of Energy is also rewarding the company with millions of dollars under the Solar America Initiative. 1366 is planning on having tens of megawatts of capacity up and running over the next couple of years.

But given the current economic environment and the slowdown in demand for solar, is it realistic to assume the company can roll out its technologies at a scale big enough to reach grid parity?

“I think it is,” said Lund. “The big factor is scale. This year the industry will have a flat year, but if it picks up like we assume it will, there is a clear path to getting there.”

To hear a full interview with Craig Lund and a variety of other players in the PV manufacturing space, listen to our Inside Renewable Energy podcast. We'll be rolling out a variety of these interviews over coming episodes.

The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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