Intersolar North America: new products from a smaller show

While empty spaces amongst the exhibitors in solar trade shows the world over have become common place, at industry events such as the Intersolar now underway in San Francisco, new products and technologies continue to be introduced into the market.

"Year after year, Intersolar North America showcases breakthrough technologies first," said Markus Elsässer, CEO of Solar Promotion, the event’s organizer, in a statement announcing the show’s opening. Some 600 exhibitors from 22 countries will display their wares at the trade show. Solar Promotion expects 19,000 attendees over three days.

In the fast-growing field of battery storage and electrical integration, Arlington-based OutBack Power presented its EnergyCell GH Terminal Battery and its FLEXcoupled AC-Coupling Solution. When applied in tandem, the system allows photovoltaic households to operate both on and off grid. This allows a household to continue to use the electricity produced by its photovoltaic array, even if electricity grids go down.

"The grid-interactive market, where you connect to the grid but you still have storage, is growing exponentially," OutBack Power’s general manager Harvey Wilkinson told pv magazine. "In a lot of ways, the instability of the grid is driving the growth in the market," said Wilkinson, "and plug-and-play storage solutions are becoming easier to install, easier to maintain and it’s just making storage an easier solution."

Natural disasters such as hurricane Sandy are also increasing awareness in the fact that power outages may become more common as global warming continues to disrupt the North American climate, Wilkinson explained.

OutBack Power reported that Intersolar North America remains a big show for the firm in terms of maintaining a strong brand presence and also in keeping in touch with the demands of its customers.

New upstream technologies are also being featured at Intersolar North America. Wafer technology startup Scifiniti, which is attending the trade show with a small team, is in talks with photovoltaic industry players to move towards establishing a production facility for its gas-to-wafer technology. The Silicon Valley-based startup came out of stealth mode only 10 days before the show opened and is looking for commercial partners for its technology, which involves the deposition of a silicon semiconductor layer onto a substrate from a gas source that is crystallized in a following step.

Scinfiniti Chairman and CEO Sharone Zehavi said that a major advantage of the company’s wafer technology is that the wafers can be employed in standard module production processes. This can be done without additional equipment or a change in processes for module and cell manufacturers, Zehavi said, adding that "at the same time we are driving the cost of wafers lower."

Scifiniti says that it can reduce the silicon used in wafer production to 0.5 grams per watt from an industry standard of 5 grams per watt. In terms of costs, Scinfinit says that $14 million in capital expenditure would be required to build and equip a 100 MW fab to produce its SmartWafer technology.

At the Intersolar North America, the Scifiniti management team is meeting with wafer producers as well as photovoltaic materials suppliers in the hope of reaching an agreement to establish a manufacturing fab for its SmartWafer technology.

"We have meeting after meeting here," said Zehavi, adding that the startup was looking to establish a wafer manufacturing base either in East Asia or somewhere in the U.S. – but outside of California.

Scifiniti has a research and development facility in San Jose, California, with a team of 20 engineers and a small management staff.

On the social side of the Intersolar North America equation, a selection of solar’s twitterati met at a side event on Tuesday. Organizer Tor Valenza, who goes by the twitter handle of @SolarFred, said that the attendees should not only spread the word of solar’s good work amongst the industry but reach out to the general public to sell solar’s story.