Start-up plans first step toward solar homes

Heliovolt will start making prototypes this month, with an eye toward "power buildings."

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.

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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.

 

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