What if you needed a wrench and when you tried to buy one, you found that they were all the same size? How many problems can be solved with a wrench of only one size? Eventually, you would have to find other ways to solve problems and relegate the single-sized wrench to the class of projects that happened to be compatible. Much the same is true of today’s solar solutions: they come in one size (large, flat plate glass modules) and are suited primarily to the task of capturing the sun in large open fields. But what about all of the other places where energy is either unavailable or not cost-effective? Solving that problem requires “wrenches” of different sizes, and even different shapes. That’s how we think about solar solutions at Alta Devices. The “one size” mentality does not fit all situation, and in fact, a wide variety of alternative forms are required to really address the potential for addressing the world’s energy needs in a cost effective manner.Reducing Fixed Costs is the Key
Reducing the cost of the electricity generated by solar starts by building high efficiency solar cells that can deliver high energy levels throughout the course of an actual year. The most expensive part of a solar energy system are the fixed costs like steel frames and racks to hold the modules, wires to connect them, labor to install the modules, and things like land, permits and electronics. There are two ways to reduce these costs. One way is to generate more energy from the same fixed costs. We do that by using gallium-arsenide solar cells that have higher energy density than any commercially available solar cells. This essentially divides the fixed costs over more kilowatt-hours generated each year, reducing the cost per kilowatt-hour of the generated electricity.
A second way to dramatically reduce the cost of solar is to eliminate some of these fixed costs. For example, why not embed solar energy generation capability into the roofing materials of buildings? Most buildings that are built today require some level of energy efficiency capability such as insulation in the walls and double paned windows to stop energy losses throughout the year. If solar roofing materials can be made sufficiently inexpensive, why wouldn’t every building have some ability to offset it’s own energy consumption by converting some of the sun’s energy into electricity? In fact, incorporating thin, flexible, high energy density cells into roofing materials can eliminate all of the extra hardware, labor and wires that would otherwise be required to install solar modules on a rooftop, dramatically decreasing the cost of the electricity that is generated.