In the growing solar power industry, the current focus is to make solar panels more economical. This is being done by reducing component cost and installation time and most R&D tries to bring down balance of system (BOS) costs.
BOS costs are the total expenses incurred for the wiring, switches, inverters etc., required to supply usable solar-generated electricity. However, a New Mexico company is looking to make one of its most high cost and inflexible components more affordable.
mPower Technology is leading innovation in solar panels with their DragonSCALEs (SemiConductors Active Layer Embedded solar). By shrinking solar cells and connecting them in blocks only a few millimetres wide, mPower is able to assemble ‘flexible’ solar products that behave like standard high-efficiency solar panels but DragonSCALEs can be installed at a much faster rate. Silicon in itself is rigid however; the cells are pixel sized which allows the overall module to be a little more malleable and flexible along grid-like interconnects. They are also able to get high voltages without using as much metal, making them lightweight and cheaper than their traditional counterparts.
The idea was originally conceived by Sandia National Laboratories scientist Murat Okandan. Okandan used his idea and the intellectual property portfolio that resulted from $20 million in R&D funding to create mPower Technology in 2015. The company currently has 24 patents related to this technology.
“The way it came around [to solar], we looked at how we might be able to leverage the incredible capability that’s in microelectronics and Microsystems and sort of merge them with what’s in terrestrial PV [photovoltaics]. The overall goal was to make solar much better, not in a sense of only higher efficiency, but also in terms of speed of deployment, operation and reliability.”, he said.
The company’s CEO Kevin Hell says they are targeting three main markets; space exploration, traditional photovoltaics and IoT devices like biometric wearables and sensors. mPower is currently creating samples to test in the vacuum of space and if the panels survive their ultimate test there, they will be more than fit for terrestrial use.