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Fledgling Solar Technology Promising Big Efficiency Gains Raises $2.5M


SunDensity, a solar startup promising 20 percent module efficiency gains due to specially coated glass, raised $2.5 million in initial financing to begin commercializing its product.

If commercially successful, the technology could measurably increase the output of solar panels, reducing the number of modules needed to produce equal amounts of electricity and cutting installation costs.

Rather than increasing the ability of a panel to absorb a wider spectrum of light through more mainstream heterojunction technology, SunDensity coating, when applied under panel glass, turns blue photons red, allowing more absorption. The startup says it can be used with any type of panel, from cadmium telluride to perovskite.  

After observing the solar industry’s plodding process to increase efficiencies, Nish Sonwalkar, the company’s founder and a research professor at the University of Massachusetts – Boston, “started thinking about the problem upside down.”

“Instead of exposing solar cells to this big spectrum, from 350 nanometers to 1000 [nanometers], let’s narrow that to be as close [as possible] to the bandgap of a given solar cell,” he told Greentech Media.

Clean Energy Ventures, an investment firm focused on early-stage clean technologies, led the funding round, with support from its partner Clean Energy Venture Group, early-stage investment group Rochester Angel Network and non-profit venture development firm LaunchNY. The round also included funds from Luminate, a New York State-funded accelerator program based in Rochester. SunDensity received $1 million from the accelerator in September.

The startup plans to stay in that region, which, according to Luminate, has the most optics, photonics and imaging patents in the country, plus the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics.

SunDensity will spend the $2.5 million over the next 18 months, scaling its technology beyond the lab, signing development and production agreements with glass companies and ramping up overall production.

Sonwalkar told Greentech Media the company is currently in talks with four large panel manufacturers and eight glass companies, who have signed “letters of intent” for up to 1.5 gigawatts-worth of coated solar panels. SunDensity hopes to begin deliveries in the middle of 2022.

SunDensity is Clean Energy Venture’s eleventh investment since the firm began work on its latest fund in 2019. The group rolled out of Clean Energy Venture Group, which has invested in clean energy companies such as EnergySage, Pika Energy — now part of Generac — and Energetic Insurance. CEV focuses on early-stage investments on the cusp of commercialization, with hopes they’ll hit the market within 12 to 24 months of their investment.

“We can’t necessarily afford to just always be betting on moonshots that may take 10 years,” said Temple Fennell, a co-founder and managing director at the group.

SunDensity is not the only photonics-focused solar company in the market, but Fennell says CEV expects the startup to reach scale more quickly than its peers. And SunDensity’s technology is also unique, focused on more common materials than those in the semiconductor quantum dots used by others.

Using more readily available materials helps lower SunDensity’s overall cost, which Sonwalkar said will only add cents per watt to panels, while increasing power output. Economies of scale will likely mean the technology, if adopted, is most immediately successful in large-scale projects. 

“SunDensity’s technology is built on an innovative and promising idea,” said Xiaojing Sun, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “Nevertheless, like all solar technologies, the key to successful commercialization lies in finding the sweet spot between performance and cost.” 

Source: Greentech Media