Skyline Solar Inc. manufactures High Gain Solar (HGS) arrays which use silicon cells, durable reflector materials and single axis tracking into a single system. Skyline HGS claims to deliver ten times more energy per gram of silicon than traditional flat panel systems in sunny locations. Systems are built primarily out of commodity materials, which improves financial payback and scalability, thereby accelerating the solar industry’s path to grid parity — a goal of both integrators such as SolarCity, which focus on residential systems, and those like Skyline.
Skyline was co-founded in 2007 by Bob MacDonald, Ph.D., who is the company’s CEO. Previously, he led the product marketing program at SolFocus and prior to that co-founded and served as vice president of sales and marketing for Onetta, a leading optical amplifier company. Earlier in his career, Bob started the telecom components division of New Focus, a brand of Bookham, a leader in photonics, and led the company to a successful IPO. Eric Johnson, Director of Engineering and Bill Keating, Executive Chairman, are the other co-founders. Johnson served as a senior engineer with GreenMountain Engineering, a consulting firm focused on clean technology, where his clients included SunPower, Miasole, DayStar, Soliant Energy and Southwest Windpower. Prior to working at GreenMountain Engineering, Johnson was a mechanical engineer at two start-ups: Phasebridge (photonics) and Beacon Power (energy storage). Bill Keating, the other co-founder, is a 30-year veteran of the technology industry with senior executive positions at Vyyo/Xtend, MOXI , Microsoft, WebTV, General Magic, Rational Software and Sun Microsystems.
The company came out of stealth mode in April of this year. So far, Skyline has raised a $24.6 million Series A from New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Alf Bjorseth, founder of Renewable Energy Corporation and Scatec Solar, as well as a $3 million Department of Energy ‘Solar America Initiative’ grant to develop its technology. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California.
Although the solar industry has grown over the past few years, most solar technologies still have trouble scaling to meet the needs of large commercial customers, industrial sites or utilities because these technologies were not designed with a systems-based approach. Skyline Solar aims to industrialize a new class of silicon-based solar PV (photovoltaic) power systems to produce highly scalable power. Skyline’s HGS can be immediately deployed without the complexity, costs and effort often associated with the usual set-up, installation and maintenance. MacDonald, driven by the idea that the cell is not the only component that the solar industry needs to address, took a systems approach while developing Skyline’s HGS technology. This tracking, racking and stringing is designed in from the start, lowering overall costs. Through concentration and tracking Skyline gets ten times the energy out of a gram of silicon that some other systems do — 30% through tracking and 70% through concentration.
The patented HGS architecture provides the energy cost of thin film with the performance and reliability of leading silicon PV. The solar industry’s movement to HGS started with the adoption of high efficiency monocrystalline silicon cells and tracking technology to increase energy yield and now includes a series of other improvements to reduce the amount of silicon required by ninety percent. Lower-cost panel designs, convection cooling, better string and shadow management, streamlined installation and maintenance are all considered to be driving higher gains. Skyline’s HGS Arrays combine a number of these proven solar technologies. HGS is built on commodity materials which are widely available, can be assembled by car manufacturers and require only one-tenth of the silicon and less than half of the parts of comparable systems.
Skyline Solar is currently in a public-private partnership agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and completed the first 27-kilowatt demonstration plant of the HGS system in San Jose, CA in May 2009.
In 2008, the worldwide solar PV market was approximately 6 gigawatts, consuming nearly $40 billion in capital. This segment is expected to grow at a rate of 50% in 2010 and beyond. The solar PV market is a small part of the $1 trillion global electricity market which is expected to use PV as its first choice. Skyline’s target segment is PV solar farms which are greater than 1 megawatt in 2010, growing to larger than 10 megawatts in 2011. The company sells its equipment to project developers and integrators in addition to large energy producers and consumers. Its key customers are in the commercial, industrial, government and utility markets. The company’s main competitors are natural gas and other fossil fueled peak power plants. In the PV space, Skyline’s competitors are other solar PV technologies such as flat panels.
Since the company has just set up its first grid connected solar power plant in May, it remains to be seen how much Skyline’s HGS arrays will be able to contribute to put solar energy systems in widespread, non-residential use. With giants like SunPower, First Solar, and Sanyo already competing in a similar space, Skyline must strive to prove the value of its systems-based approach.
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This segment is a part in the series : Deal Radar 2009