A Corvallis startup called Inspired Light is developing solar cells that are both more efficient and less expensive than conventional solar panels.
The company was just awarded a $150,000 grant from Oregon BEST (Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies) to help commercialize its new solar technology.
The money will go toward resolving technical issues and developing an anti-reflective coating to allow more sunlight into the cells. Oregon BEST researcher Chih-hung Chang, an Oregon State University chemical engineering professor, is developing a low-cost coating for the company to use.
Inspired Light CEO Frank Cloutier said his company has been “pretty stealthy” while developing its solar technology, following the motto: “Do it; then brag about it.” The goal is to build a solar power system that can compete economically with electricity from fossil fuels.
“We’re swinging for the home run,” he said. “We’re not aiming just to come out and have a commercial solar company that can compete with other solar companies. We don’t see our competition so much as solar companies but as fossil fuels.”
The company used non-traditional materials and innovative design to build low-cost solar cells that are 50 percent more efficient than conventional solar panels. The technology could eventually double the amount of solar power generated per square foot of rooftop.
“Most solar energy research focuses on either low price or high efficiency, but I’ve learned that sometimes you discover breakthroughs when you tackle both of those simultaneously,” Cloutier said. “So we asked, ‘What if we start over with a clean sheet of paper, and come up with something that’s very efficient and very, very inexpensive to produce?’ ”
Cloutier played a lead role in developing Hewlett Packard’s inkjet printing technology, and his company is made up of former HP employees. They have been working on Inspired Light’s solar technology for about five years, though they only launched the company about a year ago.
“We’ve got a pretty good track record in starting some pretty major businesses and seeing them become not just commercially successful but to change how people do things,” he said.
Although the company is keeping some details about its solar technology under wraps, Cloutier said most of the materials it uses can be sourced in Oregon, and its solar panels could eventually be manufactured here. He said he can see the technology being commercialized within the next couple years, though there isn’t an official timeline.