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 the 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 can assemble ‘flexible’ solar products that behave like standard high-efficiency solar panels. Still, 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 can also get high voltages without using as much metal, making them lightweight and cheaper than their traditional counterparts.
Sandia National Laboratories scientist Murat Okandan originally conceived the idea. 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 merging them with what’s in terrestrial PV [photovoltaics]. The overall goal was to make solar much better, not in the sense of only higher efficiency, but also terms of speed of deployment, operation, and reliability.”, he said.
The company’s CEO Kevin Hell says they target 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.