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SolBeam plans flat-panel solar concentrator

A solar start-up looks to break with tradition with the concept of photovoltaic material that can move to meet the light.

AUSTIN, Texas--If you can't get the sun to the solar cell, bring the cell to the sun.

That's one of the ideas behind SolBeam, a company that pitched to investors at the Clean Energy Venture Summit here on Tuesday.

The company, which is looking to raise $10 million, is trying to exploit the technique of concentrating sunlight to increase the electricity output of photovoltaic (PV) material. But it wants to break with traditional practices to lower power generation costs, said Daniel Colbert, the CEO of SolBeam who is also a venture capitalist at NGEN Partners.

Many large-scale concentrators place focusing lenses directly above photovoltaic material. These concentrators are typically mounted on poles or another structure so they can move during the course of the day to ensure maximum light intake.

SolBeam's design calls for decoupling the lens from the PV material. Another difference from typical concentrators is that SolBeam plans to have a flat panel.

The company envisions a few different configurations. After his presentation, Colbert described the basic design.

There will be a rectangular box that will hold the lenses that concentrate the light. Underneath that is an array that holds the photovoltaic material. To maximize the light on the array, there are two motors, or actuators, that move the PV to the optimal position, he said.

This mechanically controlled version will be the most cost-effective of SolBeam's anticipated products, delivering electricity at 15 cents per kilowatt, he said.

Other designs call for "steering" the light to hit the PV at the optimal angle.

The company has already received seed funding.