Solar innovations shine through in Arizona

Global Business

With solar technology becoming more affordable and efficient, what’s private industry going to do with it? CCTV America’s Jessica Stone went to the Solar Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona to see the latest in solar innovations.

Before a crew even installs solar panels on a roof, a prospective solar rooftop is often a blue box on a computer screen. Paul Grana, owner of Folsom Labs says the computer program can be very good for precision if the user knows what the dimensions are, but not if they are non-engineers.

“In our software, you start from that Google map – the same thing that the sales person would do,” Grana said. “And then they sketch up the workable area.”

Folsom’s software, HelioScope, uses satellite and weather data to help predict a structure’s sunlight exposure, allowing the designer to position the solar panels to take full advantage of available sunlight-even when they’re in shadow.

“If I can get 95 percent of the productivity out of those modules, it’s absolutely worth it to incorporate those modules into the system. So people are building bigger solar arrays, but they’re doing it much more intelligently, because they can use this tool to understand exactly the economic impact.”

Solar analyst MJ Shiao says ever since solar panel prices dropped, industry innovation has focused on bringing down the cost of installation.

Though products like the solar-powered calculator were introduced in the 1970’s, the industry has since prioritized solar panels for structures over consumer gadgets. But that could be changing.

A company called SunPower is partnering with Kyocera to develop a solar-powered smart phone. But the technology is still in the early stages. It takes three minutes of sunlight to get one minute of talk time.

Even developing a solar-powered smart watch has proved to be challenging. Shiao believes, because of where solar cell efficiencies are at this point, they are not a great fit for everyday consumable markets.

“We’re going to have to put a lot more into R&D to see that happen,” Shiao said. “There has to be a significant jump in the efficiency of solar cells or a significant lowering of the energy that these consumables take.”

Meanwhile, Grana says HelioScope’s business is growing 10 percent every month. His next goal: to integrate the system design tool with software that helps run the overall solar business more efficiently.

“That’s when you unlock incredible savings and really speed benefits.”

Mizhi Zhang on solar technology competition
Solar competition is heating up globally, and to find out what companies are doing to shine through, CCTV America’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke to Mizhi Zhang, a CEO of Sungrow North America.