Solyndra has been one of those companies that has been gathering funding and working on their technology while not saying a whole bunch. But several news articles out this week show that there’s lots going on at Solyndra. The big financial news was that they have $600 million in venture capital, plus $1.2 billion in orders for their solar tube technology, which they’ve been producing at their manufacturing facility in Fremont, CA since July. The company revealed that they have a $327 million order for their solar panels with Arizona based Solar Power Inc, and a brand new $681 million agreement with Germany based Phoenix Solar AG.
So what is Solyndra all about? They make what they call cylindrical solar cell panels – they look like black fluorescent light tubes coated on the inside with CIGS (copper/indium/gallium/selenium) thin film material, with an efficiency of 12 to 14 percent. A couple of things make these cells special – they actually consist of two tubes – one within the other. The outside tube acts as a solar concentrator, and the inside tube, which is sealed, contains the CIGS coating. The way the tubes are spaced and mounted in their frames means that the solar panels don’t need to be anchored to a roof. Wind can flow through the spaces between the cells, unlike conventional solar panels, which must be anchored so that the wind doesn’t lift them. The cylindrical shape also means that the cells can collect light from different angles, and can also generate electricity off of reflected light – in fact, painting the roof white before installation allows the cells to generated even more electricity.
Solyndra officials feel that they can achieve grid parity with their cells, i.e. the point at which electricity generated by their solar cells is as cheap as the electricity generated by a coal based power plant. One of the main cost savings is in installation, company officials claim installation costs are about half of what they are for conventional panels, plus installation time is cut by two-thirds. Also, when installling conventional panels on a flat roof you need to place them several feet apart from each other, so that each panel doesn’t cast a shadow on another panel. With the Solyndra cells, the panels lay flat and the entire roof can be covered.
Update 23 Oct, 2008
Solyndra announced that they have signed a new contract with GeckoLogic GmbH, a solar integrator based in Wetzlar, Germany. The amount of the contract is about $250 million. This adds another $250 million to their current backlog of $1.2 billion in contracts.