Solar startup Semprius to open first factory next week

Following a Summer that hasn’t been too kind to solar manufacturing startups, Semprius announced on Monday that next week the startup will open up its first factory in Henderson, North Carolina. Semprius is a semiconductor developer that makes solar modules for concentrating solar photovoltaic systems, which use mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto highly efficient solar cells.

In recent months two startups that make this type of concentrating solar technology have struggled. In July Amonix said it was forced to shutter its factory near Las Vegas, and last week GreenVolts said it had laid off more than 60 of its 80 workers and is looking for a buyer. ABB, GreenVolts investor, said it decided to stop funding GreenVolts because of the uncertainty in the solar panel market.

The price of solar panels has plummeted in recent months. While that has led to a boom in solar panel installations in the U.S., it has wreaked havoc on the bottom lines of solar panel manufacturers. First Solar and SunPower are turning to solar project development and solar financing programs to help generate revenue. Solar concentrating system makers have to compete with these low cost solar panels, too.

Like ABB’s former connection with GreenVolts, Semprius has a power company in its corner: Siemens. Last year Siemens said it bought a 16 percent stake in the startup and the companies also have a joint partnership to develop and deploy a “plug-and-play” CPV demonstration system based on Semprius’ solar module arrays and Siemens’ automation and control components.

Semprius’ technology is based around what it calls a micro-transfer printing technology, which 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.

Semprius 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 solar modules have a 33.9 percent conversion efficiency of solar light into electricity, which is one of the most efficient in the world.

Semprius has raised close to $40 million from ARCH Venture Partners, Illinois Ventures, Intersouth Partners, In-Q-Tel, Morgan Creek Capital Management and Siemens Venture Capital, as well as $8 million in state and county incentives. The company says North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue will speak at the opening ceremony next week on September 26, and the factory will eventually create 250 jobs.