That they are pioneers in “BIPV” technology (building integrated photovoltaics) makes Los Angeles based Solar Integrated a very interesting company. But what makes Solar Integrated really, really interesting is they very likely have the most inexpensive photovoltaic solution in the world today.
|Solar Integrated’s flexible PV
panels being installed on the
CocaCola plant in Los Angeles.
Large scale photovoltaic installations are still very expensive. Even when you get up into the 500 kilowatt or 1.0 megawatt range, which spreads the “balance of plant” costs (the inverter, the power management system, the utility interties) over a higher quantity of photovoltaic panels, you are still looking at a total cost of around $7.00 to $8.00 per watt. Solar Integrated can beat these prices, and the reason is because they have come up with some of the first commercially available flexible thin-film photovoltaic panels.
Solar Integrated takes flexible amorphous silicon solar panels, supplied by Uni-Solar, and laminates them onto a flexible PVC roofing membrane. Their standard 9′ by 19′ foot panel delivers 816 watts in full sun, which equates to 4.8 watts per square foot. They also offer a standard 9′ x 19′ panel that delivers 864 watts; 5.0 watts per square foot.
Amorphous silicon, however, delivers output in overcast conditions or in conditions when the sun is low in the sky. Crystalline photovoltaics don’t share this characteristic, which means their efficiency advantages over amorphous photovoltaics is overstated unless this is taken into account. In Los Angeles, for example, there are 5.0 “full sun equivalent” hours of sunlight per day. But because amorphous silicon photovoltaics can absorb light in multiple spectra, they produce energy when there is less sunlight, and can stretch these 5.0 hours by about 20%. This translates directly into more watt-hours per square foot of PV, which in-turn translates directly into lower costs.
The reason Solar Integrated’s installation costs are probably the most competitive in the USA is because installation costs – the cost for skilled electricians and roofers – are now the largest portion of the installed cost of most photovoltaic systems. If state-of-the-art manufacturing costs of PVs are crossing below $1.00 per watt, and they are, there really isn’t much left to squeeze out of overall costs for PVs through technological advancements in their manufacture. But with installation costs in the industry averaging $5.00 per watt (the margin on PVs and balance-of-plant comprising the rest), it is crucial to bring installation costs down for the price of kilowatt-hours from PVs to attain grid parity. Solar Integrated’s flexible solar panels, which only weigh 12 ounces per square foot and can literally be unrolled onto rooftops, are extremely time-efficient to install. From an economic perspective, this innovation is a breakthrough as significant as anything that happens in the world of PV fabrication.
Randall Corey, Solar Integrated’s VP of Construction Operations said one of the primary reasons they have been able to get their installation costs so low was because the product was designed by roofers in the first place. As he put it, “The background of our people in roofing is one of our strengths, because with their help we developed a product where the integration of the photovoltaics into the building doesn’t compromise the roofing solution at all.”
Solar Integrated’s new factory has an output of 24 megawatts per year, and their installed base at this point is over 17 megawatts. Their 2.0 megawatt system at the Tesco Group building in Riverside, California, is the biggest building integrated photovoltaic system in the world to-date.
Solar Integrated has been a public company since 2001 and is traded (SIT) on the AIM market on the London Stock Exchange. They have 250 employees and revenues in 2006 were US$ 38M. While their 2007 revenues haven’t been announced, they experienced year over year growth of about 100%. How low can they get the cost of a large photovoltaic install? Give them a call.