Siemens invests in solar startup Semprius

Power gear giant Siemens (s si) has bought a 16-percent stake in startup Semprius, a semiconductor tech company that makes solar concentrating photovoltaics, which use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto highly efficient solar cells. Solar concentrating PV is a sort of hybrid between solar panels and solar thermal tech.

Semprius already had a partnership with Siemens to jointly develop and deploy a “plug-and-play” CPV demonstration system based on Semprius’ solar module arrays and Siemens’ automation and control components. Last year, the companies said the systems are planned to be installed in numerous test sites, including at utility, commercial, and government facilities. In Siemens’ announcement this morning, it says it will act as a strategic investor to help Semprius develop the technology.

Semprius’ innovation is around what it calls a micro-transfer printing technology, which rapidly stamps semiconducting material onto a substrate, such as glass or plastic (see a video here). The technology is a faster and less expensive way to produce semiconductor devices – in this case solar modules, but it could be extended to other industries such as disk drives – than current manufacturing techniques on the market.

The startup is focusing first on developing modules for solar concentrating photovoltaics that use gallium arsenide-based, multi-junction solar cells coupled with cheap optics to concentrate solar energy onto the high-efficiency cells.  The system will use dual-axis trackers, which could be a tech easily supplied by Siemens. Semprius is also backed by investors ARCH Venture Partners, Applied Ventures, and Illinois Ventures.

Siemens owns substantial clean power and solar technology, bought solar thermal company Solel back in 2009 and has been developing solar thermal products for various plants going online soon.

Solar concentrating PV hasn’t gotten a lot of respect in the past, but in recent months has gotten a growing amount of attention and interest via a series of projects, power contract announcements and a $90.6 million federal loan guarantee for a large 30 MW solar power plant in Colorado. Globally, around 690 MW worth of solar concentrating PV projects are in development, including 28 MW in operation, 41 MW under construction, and another 621 MW under development, according to GTM Research.

Solar concentrating PV aims to cut costs by using slivers of solar cells that can covert high amounts of sunlight into electricity. But the tech also has more moving parts than traditional solar panels (more things that can break and have to be fixed), and the cost of silicon isn’t very high at the moment. Currently, the three solar concentrating PV technology front-runners are Amonix, SolFocus and Soitec’s Concentrix.

Image courtesy of SolFocus.