Mar. 18, 2008 SDF Clean Tech Breakfast

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On March 18, 2008 in San Francisco at Nixon Peabody, SDForum with Astia and Moss Adams presented the third annual Clean Tech Breakfast. The topic was “Solar Technology – what are the winning technologies? Where will the successes come from?”

James Chapman of Nixon Peabody moderated a panel with Eugenia Corrales of SolFocus, Kieran Drain of NanoGram, Annie Hazlehurst of Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Jason Matlof of Battery Ventures.

Scale is the key to profitability. Ninety percent of the solar is at the retail level. It needs more development at the industrial or utility level to be more price competitive. The current shortage of polysilicon will come to an end with delivery of some 100,000 tons from China alone over the next year.

Thin film also requires more refinement for scaling. Thin film can get twenty percent efficiency in the lab but nine percent in production. Once thin film is in a module to be installed in a residential home, it loses another four percent efficiency. It is interesting to see technology originally designed for wafer fabrication being re-engineered for solar technology.

One overlooked opportunity is increasing the efficiency outside the solar collector itself. Increasing the efficiency of stepping down, adapting, controlling, storing or transmitting the power is the idea behind startups like SmartSpark.

Despite the technical challenges the global solar market grew at some fifty percent last year and is projected to grow at least that this year. Market sizes graduated from the billions to trillions of dollars. Government support and investor interest are driving development and deployment to compete with older sources. They advised investors to look for that government support in the form of tax breaks or grants. The target for competitive pricing is ten cents a kilowatt per hour by 2010.

Beyond film, concentrated solar is working well in Spain, but transmission of power over any distance still incurs loss.

I should note there were some extraordinary views of the Trans-America building and Coit Tower from the Nixon Peabody office. Pictures below.

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Copyright 2008 DJ Cline All rights reserved.