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Stellaris joins solar start-up race

The winner of an MIT clean energy award is using lenses to concentrate light and lower overall cost of solar panels.

Stellaris intends to offer a solar panel next year that concentrates sunlight to lower the overall cost of a unit, as the company joins a growing roster of solar start-ups.

Earlier this month, the three-person outfit based in Lowell, Mass., won first place in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Ignite Clean Energy Business Presentation contest, giving it $125,000 in cash and business services.

The company is currently negotiating with investors to raise a larger round of funding to begin manufacturing its solar panels, said Tom Ward, vice president of marketing at the company. Prototypes have shown the company's panels to be 40 percent cheaper than traditional panels, he said.

Stellaris uses lenses to concentrate sunlight as it hits the solar panel. By amplifying the light, the company can use less photovoltaic material, which converts the light to electricity.

"The photovoltaic material itself is just extremely expensive. It's still far and away the most expensive component in a solar module," Ward said.

Stellaris' solar modules can utilize one-third of the photovoltaic material used in traditional panels. The company intends to rely on so-called thin film photovoltaic material, a relatively nascent solar technology compared with silicon, which is used for most solar panels.

The company plans to produce its own solar panels by next year, Ward said.

Longer term, the company sees opportunities in making so-called building-integrated photovoltaics, systems that are integrated into a building's makeup such as the roof or facade.

The company's solar modules can be used in place of skylights or large glass walls and atriums in office buildings.

"This is a relatively nascent market, but it has huge growth potential," Ward said.

Because of the way its modules are designed, panels put on a roof at a 45-degree angle will appear translucent, rather than the black of the photovoltaic material, he said.