April 14, 2006 11:07 AM PDT

Start-up plans first step toward solar homes

Solar start-up Heliovolt, a company that envisions buildings coated with electricity-generating roofs and sidings, will begin building prototypes later this month.

Heliovolt is one of several companies seeking to come up with cheaper ways to build material that can convert light to electricity.

Most solar photovoltaic cells are made of silicon, but a shortage of silicon, coupled with the maturity of the traditional solar industry, has made it hard to lower the price of solar panels, according to experts.

Companies such as Heliovolt specialize in copper indium gallium selenium, or CIGS, solar technology, which proponents say can be as durable and efficient as silicon cells but can be manufactured for less money.

Austin, Texas-based Heliovolt will start building prototypes at its plant this month and start production of products this fall, said Billy J. Stanbery, president and CEO of Heliovolt.

On the cusp of a technology shift

Heliovolt CEO Billy Stanbery tells News.com's Martin LaMonica why buildings coated with inexpensive electricity-generating roofs and sidings material will soon become commonplace.

Listen now:

Download mp3 (2.1 MB)

Stanbery said Heliovolt considers its thin-film solar coating a "platform technology" that can be used in a range of applications, including replacements for silicon in solar panels.

In addition, he said that the company intends to make "building-integrated photovoltaics" where the CIGS solar films are added onto building materials.

"By putting those coatings directly on building material, you significantly reduce the marginal cost of making the solar power and you put it directly where you use it," Stanbery said.

He said the thin-film CIGS manufacturing technology is cheaper than using silicon to build energy-harvesting "power buildings."

"Power buildings are the future. We need to build a bridge to that future, and we're interested in any appropriate and profitable means of ramping up production and getting into that market," Stanbery said.

See more CNET content tagged:
silicon, building, prototype, photovoltaics

16 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Not going to work.. for commercial buildings
At current efficiencies, covering the roof of a commercial building doesn't provide a decent percentage of power usage for even a Super WalMart, forget a manufacturing facility. Unfortunately, currently those same companies are the only ones who can afford to do it!

Once costs come down enough that residential roofs can be covered with collectors, then there will be a viable and lucrative market. Most homes in the US could generate more power than used during the peak sun hours of the day, since usually no one is in the home. This extra power can be sold back to the power company, and suddenly you have an economy of scale - there are hundreds of houses for every commercial business in rural areas. All that extra power would mean a huge reduction in power plant emissions during that same period, and a huge reduction in residential power bills.

It would also mean huge reductions in power providers' revenue. Since many of them are connected to the coal/oil supply chain by more than trade, and many of the largest solar panel makers are energy companies like BP, when do you think the cost of solar will come down to that point? I'm betting no time soon.
Posted by chrisw63 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disagree about commercial buildings
TO: chrisw63

I agree with you about the residential and the conflict of interest with oil companies providing the current lot of solar supplies, but I humbly disagree about your commercial building statement. There have been successful commercial implementations accomplished in the past with traditional solar technologies, if implemented with other energy-savings techniques. This includes manufacturing. The building design has to make the most of the technology, not just tacked on, which is where such implementations fail.

In terms of residential, I tried to implement "solar shingle" technology, but due to trees and facing the wrong direction, it would have been wasteful to implement. So again, it goes back to building design ... can the building properly and effectively utilize the technology? Most likely not.
--GIF
Posted by treet007 (123 comments )
Link Flag
Good news but old news
Actually there has been quite a bit of development in alternative solar cells. Check out nanosolar and their solar cell printing technology. They have achieved production and power efficiency leaps by utilizing technology from the microchip industry.
Also, the oil and coal industry is, in fact, smart enough to realize that their fossil resources are finite, which is why companies like BP continue to invest in solar technology and brand themselves "energy companies" rather than oil companies. Oil still rules the market, however, we may witness that change in our lifetimes.
The most exciting development in alternative energy is actually wind power. There have been very successful deployments of wind farms in New York State and elsewhere. Windfarms have an efficiency and generating muscle that can replace coal and nuclear plants completely. That is where my bet is!
Posted by StevenRowland (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
Over optimistic on wind farms
I've been waiting decades for real cost/value/performance
breakthroughs for solar panels. Wind farms aren't being built
where potential performance is optimum due to not in my backyard
sentiment. Some are, however, being built soley due to temporary
tax breaks. However, best of luck for windfarm expansion where it
actually is feasible. I just can't help feeling your fond desire is pie
in tht sky.
Posted by NM_Bill (59 comments )
Link Flag
See more comment replies
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.