Eric Romo, GreenVolts co-founder and Vice-President of Strategic Development, speaks to PV-Insider on the company’s game changing moments, deals and what it is like having industry heavy weight ABB as a strategic investor.
PV-Insider: When you look back at 2011, what was the real game changer for GreenVolts?
ER: GreenVolts experienced significant growth in 2011. We launched the industry’s first complete and fully integrated solar system, and deployed our system at a dozen sites throughout the southwest United States.
We closed our D round of funding for $35 million, allowing us to focus on both current and future installations. So, there wasn’t a single event that served as a game changer, but rather a series of crucial milestones in 2011. However, our strategic partnership with ABB, and their worldwide reach and support, is a game changer for 2012.
PV-Insider: 2012 has started on a good footing with the recent deal with Beneficial Insectary Commission. How did the deal come about in the first place? And has it opened doors into new sectors for GreenVolts in any way?
ER: I am frequently asked how we are able to compete with CPV against what is perceived as lower-cost PV. The best indicator that our price and performance are competitive is winning deals. From what we’ve seen, there is no high-priced niche market available for CPV, so if we’re winning deals, that means we’re beating traditional PV on price and performance.
After evaluating other solar technologies, Beneficial Insectary chose GreenVolts because it delivered the best return on their investment. Also, Beneficial Insectary is a family-owned business whose main concern is agriculture pest management.
Their confidence in choosing GreenVolts says a lot about the simplicity and ease-of-use resulting from our complete, integrated system approach. Finally, this installation is in front of their building, so they wanted it to look good, and people really like the way our system looks.
As for opening doors, the Beneficial Insectary installation is another data point for us in the agricultural industry. You may have seen that we announced last week our partnership with Independent Solar Developers, a firm focused on the agricultural industry in the southwest United States.
We feel that agriculture is a great market for GreenVolts, due to the strong solar resource, the way our system lends itself to distributed applications, and the potential for dual-use of agricultural land.
PV-Insider: With ABB as a strategic investor and Independent Solar Developers now as a turnkey partner, what are you learning from both of them in terms of project possibilities, synergies into new sectors or geographic markets? Can you offer an example?
ER: ABB offers very broad, horizontal growth. With their funding, global presence, and expertise, we have the ability to extend the GreenVolts energy solution to customers worldwide, and are concurrently responding to demand in southern Europe, the Middle East, India and South Africa.
ABB’s leadership position in other power technologies, and utility and industrial customer base offers natural synergies with GreenVolts and an outstanding opportunity for growth.
Independent Solar Developers (ISD), on the other hand, is the result of an exploration to develop deep, vertical market solutions. From the point of view of the customer, the solar industry looks very fragmented, somewhat like a giant hardware store of parts.
GreenVolts took a different approach, considering customer needs in total, and then designing a complete system. The partnership with ISD extends this approach, by going even further to meet specific industry, application, and local market needs with a complete, tailored, turnkey solution.
PV-Insider: This may not be an easy question to answer, but how is GreenVolts addressing utilities' needs to get material costs down, solar efficiency output up and balance of systems at optimal levels?
EV: Even given the huge price reductions in the solar industry over the past year, we believe that GreenVolts is on a steeper improvement curve than the industry as a whole. CPV cells continue to show gains every year, recently passing 42% efficiency.
Since we control the entire system, we are able to pick up performance improvements in the optics, power electronics, and systems integration. Part of the reason we took our system approach is so that we could control the entire design and maximize efficiency.
We’ve designed our system to be easy and inexpensive to install, moving operations from the field where labor is expensive, back into the factory. This is hard to do unless you control the entire design.
From a business model perspective, we use contract manufacturing, which reduces the overhead burden and capital expenditures associated with running a factory. This is typical in other high tech industries but is novel in solar.
PV-Insider: What is the company's goal this year in terms of target project completions, new markets and sales?
ER: More of all of them! One of our core company values is to talk about what we’ve done, not make promises about what we’re going to do. We’re excited about the dozen sites and greater than 3MW we got on the ground in 2011, and are looking forward to more in 2012.
A study by NREL and MIT found that production scale rather than low labour costs - or government subsidies was the greatest driver of China's competitive manufacturing costs in traditional solar PV. But what of thin film?
Innovations in multi-junction cell technology continue to uplift the CPV industry. Efficiency increase is a major lever to improve LCOE, and since the cell cost is 10-15% of system cost, there is significant leverage between cell efficiency and system savings.
Promising superior performance over other energy storage options, lithium-ion batteries are steadily penetrating the solar PV market. But what will it take for this technology to become a cost-effective storage solution for PV?