Morgan Solar Aims to Start Production in Cali in 2011

Morgan Solar at Solar Power International 2010

Morgan Solar has settled on a production plan and is ready to offer its first system that uses concentrated sunlight and solar cells to produce electricity. Now the Canadian startup is counting on its new CEO, Asif Ansari, to deliver another round of funding that will “definitely be more than $10 million,” to deliver those plans.

Hiring Ansari is a big coup for the Toronto startup — Ansari was CEO and then CTO of eSolar until last year, when he founded Suntrough Energy in Southern California. Before eSolar, Ansari headed research, development and manufacturing of concentrated photovoltaic technology at Energy Innovations.

John Paul Morgan, co-founder and chief technology officer for Morgan Solar, told us that before Ansari joined the company he was intrigued with it because he didn’t believe the Canadian startup’s technology could work. “He did the interview out of sheer curiosity of how it could work. We won him over,” Morgan said.

Less than four months ago, Ansari told us that his next big thing was to bring solar thermal energy to the developing world. At that time, though, he also had quietly started working at Morgan Solar, which was looking for a new chief executive to shepherd its leap into commercial production. Morgan Solar “officially” announced the arrival of the new CEO last week during Solar Power International in Los Angeles, though the company confirmed the hire to Green Energy Reporter last month.

Ansari is still listed as CEO of Suntrough on the company’s website. John Paul Morgan said Suntrough and Morgan Solar are tackling different markets, and Morgan Solar has no problem with Ansari’s continuing involvement in Suntrough.

Morgan Solar has developed a concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system that uses lenses made with acrylic and glass to concentrate the sunlight up to 1,000 times onto slivers of solar cells. The company’s 27-meter by 27-meter 3-square-meter solar panel will feature rows of optics and accompanying cells, and will be 26-30 percent efficient. Designed as part of ground-mounted systems, the solar panels will sit on dual-axis trackers to follow the sun.

The company, founded in 2007, initially designed its optics to be triangle in shape, but changed the shape to square to reduce the number of components and simplify the process of assembling them, said Morgan, who was inspired to get into the solar business while working for Doctors Without Borders in Congo.

The startup has picked Chula Vista, Calif., as the location for its factory to produce optics for its concentrating PV system starting in spring 2011. The startup is getting a $3.3 million loan from the California Energy Commission and manufacturing supplies from its investor Nypro, which makes factory equipment for all sorts of plastic products.

The solar company hasn’t decided whether to assemble the optics and other components into solar panels at the Chula Vista site as well, Morgan said. The company has a panel assembly facility at its headquarters. The overall plan is to run a manufacturing operation that can produce up to 35 megawatts of solar panels per year in 2011, he said.

The company also plans to carry out a megawatt-size demonstration project next year, Morgan said. Aside from Nypro, the startup also counts power plant developer Iberdrola as a corporate investor who could help the company commercialize its technology in ways other than providing private equity.

Morgan Solar is competing in a field with no shortage of players. Competitors include SolFocus and Amonix, both of whom have installed equipment and found buyers for the electricity from their solar gear.