INNOVALIGHT, THE Silicon Valley solar energy firm headed up by Irish executive Conrad Burke, is one of seven companies working on next-generation solar technologies which have been selected for a pilot by oil giant Chevron. The US oil company intends to see if the technologies can be used to provide power at its sites around the US. The demonstration at a former oil refinery at Bakersfield in California encompasses 7,700 solar panels on an eight-acre site which will generate approximately 740 kilowatts of electricity. The power will be used at a nearby Chevron oil production facility, with any surplus supplied to the local electricity grid.
Speaking to The Irish Times recently, Mr Burke said Innovalight had re-invented its business model over the last two years. It now sells and licenses the process to produce a “solar ink” which, when applied to panels, significantly enhances their efficiency. Prior to this the company had intended to integrate this technology into its own solar energy panels. “There has been a total shake-up in the sector in the last 24 months,” said Mr Burke. “From a position of zero, China now accounts for 70 per cent of solar panel production and the European and US firms are really being squeezed.”
The ink, developed by Innovalight, can be printed on to a variety of materials using standard inkjet printing technology. Mr Burke described the company’s role as that of an “arms dealer” to panel manufacturers who can increase the amount of electricity generated by as much as 17 or 18 per cent by applying the ink. “All solar cells are really very similar – you have a silicon wafer at the start and a solar cell at the end of the manufacturing process,” explained Mr Burke. “If, for example, you have 25 megawatts of capacity on a production line operating 24/7, we provide a drop-in technology that brings that output up to 27 megawatts.”
Although Mr Burke said 2009 had been a difficult year, it had enabled the company to prove the efficiency of its technology. In January, Innovalight completed an $18 million round of investment.