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Summary:

Solar startup Alta Devices, which makes thin film solar cells and is backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, says it plans to make a fast-charging solar iPad cover by the end of 2013.

Alta Devices CEO Chris Norris shows a sample of solar cells.

Alta Devices, a solar startup backed by venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, plans to make a fast-charging solar iPad cover by the end of next year that it says could end the need to plug an iPad into the wall or laptop to charge. That’s according to an article by MIT Tech Review, and Alta Devices spoke to the publication at their annual Emtech conference at MIT this week.

While there are already a good number of solar covers for iPhones and even iPads, the problem is that most of these solar covers use conventional solar cells that are inefficient and take a long time to charge the device. Conventional solar cells also tend to be thick, bulky and heavy. But Alta Devices’ solar cells are up to 28 percent efficient (from less than 20 percent for conventional solar cells) and are created in a thin layer that can be embedded into materials, and buildings.

Alta Devices’s CEO Chris Norris (pictured in our photos) tells MIT Tech Review:

“Using our material, the cover of an iPad can generate 10 watts of power in the full sun. That’s the same amount of power you get from the wall.”

However, there’s a few things to remember about this move by Alta Devices. Alta Devices is looking to make money on some niche applications in the short term before it scales up production of its solar cell factories to make cells for buildings or utility fields. It’s not a good time to be a solar manufacturer, and in particular a startup solar manufacturer — dozens of solar makers have gone bankrupt or left the sector over the past year and a half.

Companies like Konarka have also been trying to make these types of niche solar products. Konarka recently declared bankruptcy after years of funding from venture capitalists. Alta Devices is also developing solar cells for military applications, which can enable troops and their devices to charge up off-the-grid in combat less frequently. Alta Devices tells MIT Tech Review that it can make a profit just on making solar cells for military applications.

To deliver its fast-charging iPad solar charger to the market by the end of 2013, the company will have to work at reducing the cost of its cells. At this point its cells are far more expensive than traditional silicon-based solar cells. Alta Devices makes it cells from gallium-arsenide. Check out this article for more details on Alta Device’s solar cell technology and a tour of its pilot factory.

Alta Devices has raised $120 million since its inception in 2007, and it’s building a pilot line that will be able to produce a few megawatts of solar cells per year. Its long list of investors include Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Crosslink Capital, DAG Ventures, NEA, Presidio Ventures, Technology Partners, Dow Chemical, Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), Good Energies, Energy Technology Ventures — the joint venture involving GE, ConocoPhilips and NRG Energy — and Constellation Energy.

  1. I like Alta’s odds. They’re not selling solar like a commodity. Embedding their more efficient solar cells in consumer products is the way to go.

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  2. How about the Android consumers. There are more of them.

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  3. …when I read this–”It’s not a good time to be a solar manufacturer, and in particular a startup solar manufacturer — dozens of solar makers have gone bankrupt or left the sector over the past year and a half.”…

    I am reminded of how I know, in my heart of hearts, that we as a country should be supporting research and development efforts in the general area of solar energy…and how Americans with the know-nothing mindset of Sarah Palin focus their attention on the Solyndras of the world and their desire/right to use incandescent bulbs (and not use CFLs).

    …what a country!

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  4. They should make window blinds.

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    1. Agreed! If they don’t, I will.

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  5. So they can’t get the pricing down to a level for the mass-market initially – fine, this would be such an awesome product that there would be some kind of market at $1,000 each – early adopters who really need the off-grid capability, or just rich nerds. Then over time the price will reduce. I recall buying my first tiny LCD monitor for more than that and now they cost next to nothing.

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  6. So does that mean we may see a lot of ipad owners standing outside on purpose just to recharge.

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