Solar roll out

An innovative method for manufacturing high-efficiency solar panels will go into mass production next year.

An innovative method for manufacturing low-cost, high-efficiency solar panels that was developed at Colorado State University will go into mass production next year.

University spin-off AVA Solar plans to start producing the panels in a new facility by the end of 2008. Produced at less than $1 per watt, the solar panels will reduce the cost of generating solar electricity and could power homes and businesses around the globe with clean energy for roughly the same cost as traditionally generated electricity.

The patented technology was developed by mechanical engineering Prof W.S. Sampath at Colorado State. There, he developed a continuous, automated manufacturing process for the panels using a glass coating with a cadmium telluride thin film, instead of the standard higher-cost crystalline silicon.

Because the manufacturing process produces high efficiency devices (ranging from 11 percent to 13 percent) at a very high rate and yield, the company says that it can be done more cheaply than with existing technologies. The cost to the consumer could be as low as $2 per watt, about half the current cost of solar panels, and competitive with cost of power from the electrical grid in many parts of the world.

Prof Sampath – along with two affiliate faculty members and former students – Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth – formed AVA Solar in January to commercialise the technology.

Since then, the company has raised two rounds of funding and recently was awarded a $3m grant from the US Department of Energy’s ‘Solar America’ Initiative. The company now employs 28 people with John Hill, former vice president of sales and marketing for Storage Technology Corp. and founder of Hill Carman Ventures, serving as chairman of the board.