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Optony: Where Thin Film and Concentrating Solar Meet

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The idea behind Optony, a year-old startup that is working on combining thin film solar cells with a solar concentrating system, is to merge two of the solar industry’s low-cost options to produce solar power prices that rival grid parity. At least that’s the theory — the company is still in the development phase. P. R. Yu, CEO and founder of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup, tells us that the company has just started to raise a Series A round to help continue work on its rooftop and ground-mounted solar system.

Usually, solar concentrating systems use mirrors and lenses to focus sun rays onto tiny, highly-efficient, multi-junction solar cells that can withstand the high concentrations and heat. The problem is that while only a small amount of the solar cell is used in these systems, the material itself can be pretty expensive. Yu says the company’s thin-film material, which it plans to manufacture itself, is cheaper than these cells as well as traditional silicon-based photovoltaics.

But to stand up to concentrations and heat, the thin-film solar cells would have to be tweaked significantly. Yu wouldn’t discuss what the thin-film material was made of or how it was modified, only that it is to be able to withstand high heat. Thin-film material deposited onto glass could help with a modest dissipation of heat. Yu also wouldn’t describe the level of concentration, but we’re thinking it’s probably at a lower concentration than the high-powered systems being developed in other concentrating set-ups. Yu plans to first focus on the commercial market to sell the systems, and estimates the power output of the system between tens of kilowatts and a megawatt.

So far, Yu says Optony has raised only angel funding and $250,000 from the Department of Energy’s Technology Commercialization Development Fund (TCDF). The company is also working to develop the technology with the National Renewable Energy Labs (where Yu worked for five years, previously). The merger of the low-cost solar options could be a winning idea, but we’ll wait to learn (and see) more from the firm before we get too excited.

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