Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Interview with Marco DeMiroz, Soliant Energy
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Recently, Pasadena-based Pasadena-based Soliant Energy, one of the solar energy firms in Southern California, opened up a new pilot production line. We spoke several years ago with Soliant about their technology--which is focused on concentrating solar photovoltaic panels--and we thought we'd get an update from the firm in terms of its technology and commercial deployment. Last week, we spoke with Marco DeMiroz, the firm's CEO:
Thanks for talking with us. It sounds like you have focused in on the commercial rooftop market now for your panels?
Marco DeMiroz: Yes, our complete focus is on energizing commercial rooftops. Our product is unique, in that it is designed for commercial use. We've got a low aspect ratio, where normally concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) products are designed for huge, ground mounted arrays for utilities. Ours are designed for plug-and-play capability with existing, flat panels. If you know how to install a flat panel on a commercial rooftop, you know how to install our product. Our product provides the highest energy density in a limited rooftop space.
Why would a company use your technology, instead of what it available out there today such as flat panels?
Marco DeMiroz: The difference is really, from the same area, we can provide up to two times more energy output than a standard flat panel. If you have a commercial/industrial customer, or a federal customer, who wants to maximize the output from their rooftop, they can use our product. There's only so much you can do with standard flat panels, where we are designed to deliver up to 2.5X that energy.
One of the areas which you were looking originally to address with your technology was high cost of silicon -- how does your technology compare in respect to cost now?
Marco DeMiroz: The argument for using concentrating photovoltaic hasn't changed at all. That is really the concentrating photovoltaic argument, which is really in common with us and the other The difference is that CPV players are designing ground mounted systems, and our is for commercial rooftops. In terms of costs, our focus has been on offering an install cost competitive with high end flat panels. From a customer perspective, we deliver the same install cost, but two times more energy, so your levelized cost of energy is much lower. We didn't really want to get into an argument that because of our technology, we could charge a premium. The installed cost will be the same, but you will get lots more energy. It's a simple value proposition.
Does the additional complexity of a tracking system create any issues?
Marco DeMiroz: Complexity is really a myth. When you look at the product, it tracks the sun once a day, and over 25 years the duty cycle is a fraction of what the actuators are designed for. We have two actuators--a rotary and linear actuator, which has point one degree precision to tracking the sun. It's a straightforward implementations, and actuators have much longer life cycles. We've had panels up on our rooftop for almost 18 months now without a hiccup. It's all automatic, and you don't need to find tune anything--you just line up with a standard North/South, East/West configuration, it finds the sun, and tracks it with great precision. Complexity is a non-issue for us.
Where is your technology now in terms of deployment?
Marco DeMiroz: We are getting ready to ship our beta. We have built products for testing at Sandia, and we're an innovator in our field. Our equipment has been tested by the Department of Energy and Sandia Labs, and on our rooftop we've been testing our product for over a years now. We just opened our pilot manufacturing plant last week, and have announced 1 megawatt capacity. We'll be shipping our beta products in the November timeframe, with commercial shipments right after that.
Have you signed up installers yet?
Marco DeMiroz: We've announced a relationship with SunEdison and Morrows-Meadows, the largest renewable energy installers in the Southern California area. We've signed up with Sunlight Electric in Northern California, and are in discussions with other players. We're getting good reception from our channel partners, because of our differentiated product. We're also in discussions with direct customers--as a new player, we're educating the market and helping them to understand who we are, what our product is all about, and our value proposition.
There's an awful lot of companies in the solar power area nowadays. How do you get above the noise?
Marco DeMiroz: We've got a very specific target customer, which has a high energy profile, in a sunny, dry, climate. If you look at our target areas, which are California, Arizona, and Western Texas, that's more than 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. population. It's a 60 gigawatt opportunity. In that market, we're really differentiated. Compared with high end flat panels, we not only deliver higher energy output, but we don't suffer from thermal degradation that they suffer from. Our temperature degradation is a small fraction of a flat panels, and our overall performance is very, very competitive. We're going to go out there, and educate the market, our channel partners, and deliver a high quality product, which will make people take notice. And our value proposition is very strong, as our cost of energy per kilowatt hour is much, much lower.
Finally, how big is the company in terms of employees?
Marco DeMiroz: We currently have 38 people on staff, and with the pilot manufacturing line we want to ramp up an additional 40 people. Those people will be a combination of technicians, assemblers, manufacturing engineers and other manufacturing talent.