Agrivoltaic solar panel startup raises $5m

Agrivoltaic solar panel startup raises $5m

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Swiss solar panel startup Insolight has raised $5m to commercialise its high eficiency translucent technology for agrivoltaic smart agriculture applications. 

Funding of comes from Swiss investors alongside the CHF10m ($10m, €10.6m) EU HIPERION project that is building a pilot line for the technology. 

The company is a spinoff from EPFL in Lausanne and has developed a transparent solar panel technology with an efficiency of 29 percent, significantly higher than other technologies. It is initially aiming at panels that can act as both greenhouse covers and power plants, hence the term agrivoltaic.

Lenses embedded in a thin glass layer focus sunlight on tiny, high-efficiency, space-grade solar cells below. The lenses move a few millimeters throughout the day to track the sun’s movement across the sky and keep the cells aligned with the light rays. The system can be fitted to conventional solar panels to maximize energy production which means that it can take advantage of the improvements in conversion efficiency from lower cost tandem perovskite solar cells to get similar efficiencies. 

The translucent modules can also work as standalone power plants while serving other functions such as promoting crop growth. In tests at Tecnova Foundation, an agricultural technology center in Spain, the system increased crop biomass by 20% by creating a micro-climate, protecting plants from extreme weather conditions, and modulating direct sunlight.

“The agrivoltaics market may be relatively new, but it’s already worth an estimated CHF 700 million ($700m), with total installed capacity of 5 GWp,” said Laurent Coulot, CEO of InsoLight. “In addition to developing a pilot assembly line, we will also further demonstrate the performance and reliability of our innovation through qualification tests and several commercial pilot sites across Europe,” he said.

Insolight is planning to team up with major solar energy suppliers to target the agricultural sector with panels that can be installed in fields, on greenhouses and on green roofs.

Next: Dual mode agrivoltaic panel

Users will be able to switch between two modes: an electricity generation mode, in which the lenses concentrate light on the high-efficiency solar cells, and a maximum light transmission mode, in which all incoming light passes through the panel to reach the crops below.

CSEM in France is coordinating the 48 month HIPERION project. “Our consortium has the expertise needed to bring this promising technology one step closer to mass production by further testing its economic potential and developing an assembly process that can be integrated into existing PV module production lines. Consortium members include several solar project developers that will assess the technology from the perspective of the rooftop and utility market segments,” said Christophe Ballif, vice president of CSEM and head of photovoltaics research.

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