The race is on to develop a new solar technology that would revolutionize the industry, creating jobs and making solar power more economically viable for many American homes and businesses. Now, because of almost $3 million in stimulus funding, one California company is poised to cross the finish line and take home the gold.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded XeroCoat Inc. a grant to develop a method for applying its patented anti-reflective coating technology directly onto assembled solar panels. This coating method — slated to be fully developed by November 2010 — will further lower the cost of solar energy technology, making it available to more Americans.
“If the grant hadn’t come through, I don’t know that this project would’ve happened,” Dr. Michael Harvey, chief technical officer, says. “We may have had to push the timeline out to three years, and then there’s a very good chance we’d miss the market opportunities because we know other companies in China and Japan are trying to develop this — we now believe we have a head start instead of having to play catch-up.”
The project has also meant job growth at XeroCoat, according to the company, with about five positions created at the small business and several manufacturers undertaking work for the company that wouldn’t have been done without the grant.
“This program is really delivering our next generation of technologies, so we have engineers, scientists and other workers on board, and we anticipate working with partners across the U.S. to manufacture and deliver these products around the world,” Michael says. “We’ve been talking to some manufacturing companies, and they are excited because this will help them as well.”
The anti-reflective coating developed by XeroCoat provides as much as a 5-percent increase in energy on a kilowatt-hour basis. A medium-sized air conditioner runs for about one hour on a kilowatt-hour of electricity, meaning over only 20 hours, the air conditioner could be powered an additional hour virtually for free by the sun. The technology works by generating more energy from the same solar module already being used because the coating transmits more sunlight that would otherwise be reflected and lost with traditional modules. Therefore, by using the same module technology already in place, with an anti-reflective coating, the energy production goes up for the same input cost.
Michael first became involved with and interested in solar technology while working in the energy sector in Australia. His educational background, a Ph.D. in physics and optical materials, helped him determine that there was a gap in the marketplace for solar energy, so he founded XeroCoat, which has grown steadily since headquartering in Redwood City, Calif.
“Australia has a great wealth of scientific resources, but when it came to actually building something, Silicon Valley was the place to be for engineering talent and an environment that supports renewable energy,” Michael says. “I came to the U.S. looking for people who could make things.”