Thursday, January 31, 2013

V3Solar Spin Cell = 8 Cents/kWh?

January 24, 2013 Zachary Shahan

Quite frankly, if the company’s numbers are correct, this could be the biggest solar news of the decade, or even a greater timespan. (And CleanTechnica got the inside scoop — due to our sincere passion for helping the world, and probably also our status as the top cleantech or clean energy site in the world.)

As a quick refresher, we’ve covered V3Solar before, back when the name was Solarphasec. See: Solarphasec — Solar Power Meets Art (I think that includes a good intro of the tech, as well as an exclusive, real-world photo of an early version of a V3Solar cone or “Spin Cell.”)

But a simple intro of the tech isn’t the groundbreaking story of the day (that’s old news) — the story of the day is the tremendously low cost of the tech, and that’s what could change the world; that’s what could stimulate a more transformative distributed energy revolution than anything we’ve seen to date.


Am I hopeful? Yes. In case you aren’t aware, the average cost of electricity in the US is about 12 cents per kWh. The average cost of electricity from solar PV in the US is now about 10-15 cents per kWh. The cost of V3Solar’s Spin Cell, as noted in the title (and based on tests that the company considers to actually be conservative — meaning the cost could actually be lower), was quoted to me as being 8 cents per kWh! Bill Rever, a very well qualified 3rd party solar specialist has apparently verified the cost projection. You can see his full technical review here.

When I received this information and was astounded at the low price, my source wrote: “Yes. We are excited. We think we can go below that, but we want to stay conservative.”

So, 8¢/kWh is two-thirds the price of retail electricity, and nearly half the price of current solar technology. If the cost projection is true, that’s astounding, and revolutionary. (Notes: the 8¢/kWh figure is LCOE; and the BOM cost is 59 cents/Wp, including racking, tracking, and the inverter.)

Here’s a chart showing how the Spin Cell would compete with other energy technologies:

Larger image via this link.

Am I cautious? Yes. Until a new technology is on the market, I’m always cautious. And I’m no solar scientist or engineer. A production prototype is still in development, and a low-volume production phase would follow that before advancing on to the mass-market production phase. A lot can change between the lab, the manufacturing floor, and the Home Depot shelf. I have no capability of saying if it will or not. But let’s not forget that we’ve put a man on the moon, we’ve now got a world of information in our computers and even on our phones, we can talk to people across the world via tiny microphones and can receives tweets from astronauts out in space, we can play video games with almost real-life visuals, and more. Changes happen. Technology advances. Every “breakthrough” doesn’t translate into a commercial product, but some do. We’ll simply have to wait to see if this is one of those technologies.


V3Solar’s Spin Cell

I shared a link above to a good overview of the technology, but if you’re not the type to click through on links, or simply want a bit more info, here’s another summary based on info from a “corporate overview” that was passed on to me:

Revolutionizing Solar

I think everyone can now picture a conventional solar panel. But a phone 20 years ago certainly didn’t look like a phone today. And solar technology today may look nothing like solar technology in 20 years. And if V3Solar’s technology is anything close to as cheap as presented above, there’s a good chance solar installations will soon look much different.

“V3Solar has invented, and is now in the process of commercializing, the first major change to flat panel PV technology in over 50 years – the V3 Spin Cell. For too long, the world believed solar was flat,” V3Solar writes.

“Using specialized lensing and a rotating, conical shape, the Spin Cell can concentrate the sunlight 30X onto one sun mono PV with no heat degradation. This increases the Power Density while lowering the Total Cost of Ownership and Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), which is estimated to be $.08/kWh for the Spin Cell (see spreadsheet).”

Here’s more on this in a bit simpler language and more detail:
  1. Concentrated light reduces the amount of PV by a factor of the amount of concentration – 30X sun concentration requires 1/30th of the PV for the same power output.
  2. Dynamic Spin cools the PV so that one sun mono PV can handle a concentration of more than 30X suns.
  3. The dynamic spin increases the efficiency of the PV by 20%, effectively increasing 20% efficient PV to 24% efficiency.
  4. Spinning the PV under multiple lenses creates “an additive” effect of sunlight.

“The Spin Cell does have additional BOM costs for the magnets, the power electronics and the form factor, but these costs are mitigated by the increased production through integrated tracking, inverter, and racking.
 Bottom line is the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE). The company contracted with Bill Rever to complete a 3rd party technical analysis on the V3Solar technology and to verify all of the numbers for the LCOE.”

A second product based on the same technology, called CoolSpin, integrates with existing concentrated photovoltaics (CPV), but it lowers their material costs by 34%, because it addresses CPV’s key shortcoming.

“Being able to use the abundant and cheap one sun mono PV is a significant market advantage. Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) has been forced to rely on expensive, exotic, and scarce materials to handle the increased heat, costing up to 400X more.

Using less PV for the same power output is significant because the cost of the lensing material is 1/10th the cost of one sun mono PV.”

CoolSpin is a simpler product to design and manufacture and the company expects it will be in full production by the middle of 2013. You can read about Cool Spin on the V3Solar website.

Here are some more charts and tables on the above information:

Here is a slide from the company’s investment deck that explains how the automated manufacturing will work:

Preparing For Manufacturing & Mass Market

“The Spin Cell is currently undergoing refinement and cost analysis at, a Californian based industrial design house, as a precursor to commercial production. The Company is also engaged in negotiations with potential licensees in both the United States and abroad for high volume manufacturing of the Spin Cell.”

Through partnerships with manufacturers and major solar companies, and their specific licensing model, V3Solar is looking to get its Spin Cell to mass market quickly.

Notably, I also learned from my contact that V3Solar already has over 4 GW of requests for orders. To put that into perspective, the US currently has about 7 GW of installed solar power capacity. 4 GW is impressive! Again, we’ll see what happens after the prototype test, but it’s clear that a handful of big players are interested in this.

As one example of a potential order, a group specializing in military projects has signed a deal with V3Solar to develop 1000 Mobile Energy Production systems for the US Army, at $500K each. For this project, the Spin Cell would be integrated with the batteries of a major multi-national corporation (I can’t share the name, but they are huge). The batteries and Spin Cells will be held in shipping containers for transport, which will then open up like a flower upon arrival to cheaply produce clean energy. This will not only save money, but will also reduce supply-line casualties. A similar system is being developed for disaster relief.

The Mission

In a nutshell, here’s the company mission: “A new spin on solar to capture 3% of the energy market with a licensing model that eliminates CAPEX costs, mitigates risk, and diversifies production.”

Again, to put “3% of the energy market” into perspective, all solar power installed in the US to date currently accounts for about 0.5-1% of the energy market — V3Solar has some ambitious targets, and it plans to hit those through cooperation and partnerships that are good for the average citizen.

Spin Cell Benefits

In summary, here’s a list of the technology’s key benefits, according to the company:

  • Dual axis tracking from conical design
  • Increased Power Density
  • Lower Total Cost of Ownership
  • “Power Stair casing” — as the PV spins past multiple lenses, an additive effect of sunlight is created – a first for any solar device.
  • Integrated racking and ease of installation
Through the concentration of sunlight, the Spin Cell uses only 5% of the amount of PV as flat panels to produce the same power, thus reducing the cost/watt.

“The Spin Cell does have additional BOM costs for the magnets, the power electronics and the form factor, but these costs are mitigated by the increased production through integrated tracking, inverter, and racking. Bottom line is the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE).”

There’s a lot more to write about the company and the technology, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now. 8¢ per kWh would be astounding, and combined with some progressive goals the company has, we may genuinely see it transform the energy industry.

All images via V3Solar

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