Note to Editors: Downloadable, print-quality photos, downloadable audio clips and video about Professor W.S. Sampath’s research and AVA Solar, and information about other CSU clean energy research, are available online at http://welcome.colostate.edu.
Today, Colorado State University is taking another big step toward making Colorado a leader in sustainable energy production. Already internationally known for research in the development of clean energy solutions including alternative fuels, clean engines and intelligent power grids, Colorado State announced its innovative method for manufacturing low-cost, high-efficiency solar panels is nearing mass production – bringing hundreds of jobs to the region and potentially providing light and power for billions in the underdeveloped world.
In a new 200-megawatt factory, expected to employ up to 500 people, AVA Solar Inc. will start production by the end of next year on the pioneering, patented technology developed by mechanical engineering Professor W.S. Sampath at Colorado State. Based on the average household usage, 200 megawatts will power 40,000 U.S. homes.
Produced at less than $1 per watt, the panels will dramatically reduce the cost of generating solar electricity and could power homes and businesses around the globe with clean energy for roughly the same cost as traditionally generated electricity. The technology is yet another example of Colorado State’s leadership in cutting-edge research in the area of alternative energy solutions and sustainability; more than 80 faculty members on campus from all eight colleges are involved in clean energy research, including 25 in the College of Engineering.
"Professor Sampath’s technology has global reach and local impact, which is part of our strategic mission at Colorado State University," said Larry Edward Penley, president of Colorado State University. "He is solving a huge global challenge while at the same time providing jobs for the region’s economy. Clean energy research is one of CSU’s strengths, which is why we’ve formed an academic Clean Energy Supercluster to begin to rapidly move these types of technological advancements into the commercial market."
Sampath has developed a continuous, automated manufacturing process for solar panels using glass coating with a cadmium telluride thin film instead of the standard high-cost crystalline silicon. Because the process produces high efficiency devices (ranging from 11 percent to 13 percent) at a very high rate and yield, it can be done much more cheaply than with existing technologies. The cost to the consumer could be as low as $2 per watt, about half the current cost of solar panels, and competitive with cost of power from the electrical grid in many parts of the world. In addition, this solar technology need not be tied to a grid, so it can be affordably installed and operated in nearly any location.
Sampath has spent the past 16 years perfecting the technology and patiently waiting for the market for solar technology to mature. In that time, annual global sales of photovoltaic technology have grown to approximately 2 gigawatts or two billion watts – roughly a $6 billion industry. Demand has increased nearly 40 percent a year for each of the past five years – a trend that analysts and industry experts expect to continue.
By 2010, solar cell manufacturing is expected to be a $25 billion-plus industry.
"This technology offers a significant improvement in capital and labor productivity and overall manufacturing efficiency," said Sampath, director of Colorado State’s Materials Engineering Laboratory. "The current market is over $5 billion annually and additional markets are developing."
Colorado State’s Office of Economic Development and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. have supported the startup, and the Colorado State University Research Foundation holds equity in the company as part of a licensing arrangement.
"We have an unusual situation in that there is more demand than there is supply," said Pascal Noronha, president and chief executive officer of AVA Solar. "The world has an energy problem. The time is right to solve this problem with a green solution, especially given that electricity consumption is going to grow astronomically."
Sampath – along with two affiliate faculty members and former students of his, Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth – formed AVA Solar in January to commercialize the technology. Since then, the company has raised two rounds of funding and recently was awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative. The company now employs 28 people with John Hill, former vice president of sales and marketing for Storage Technology Corp. and founder of Hill Carman Ventures, serving as chairman of the board.
The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 provides incentives for purchasing and using solar equipment through 2008 – a credit equal to 30 percent of qualifying expenditures for purchase of commercial solar installations.
"The key to expanding the U.S. market is to lower manufacturing costs so more people can afford the technology," Sampath said.
Key advantages of AVA Solar’s technology that will enable one of the lowest costs of production in the industry include:
-Simple manufacturing process – fully automated and continuous production with no batch processing yielding high throughputs or production rates;
-High yields – enabled by tightly controlled process parameters;
-Low waste – less than 2 percent of the materials used in production need to be recycled;
-Inexpensive, efficient raw materials – because they convert solar energy into electricity more efficiently, cadmium telluride solar panels require 100 times less semiconductor material than high-cost crystalline silicon panels.
For more information about AVA Solar, go to http://www.avasolar.com.