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Solyndra's curvy roofs use thin-film solar cells to generate more power and have less wind resistance, all helping to make solar more cost competitive.  (Source: Solyndra)

Solyndra's key tech, seen here, is a tube shaped solar panel. The tube is manufactured with connections similar to a fluorescent lighbulb, with the inner tube coated in a thin film of semiconductor, which generates the solar power.  (Source: Solyndra)
New cheap and curvy roof is aerodynamic, generates more power, and lasts longer

Solar power is an incredibly promising tech.  With efficiencies constantly improving over the last couple decades and costs dropping every year, solar is likely to become very competitive with fossil fuels in coming years.  Some states and cities are offering incentives to citizens purchasing panels and some businesses are buying them as well

Critics say that solar power isn't ready for primetime and the unsubsidized savings are negligible.  A new startup is looking to silence those critics by improving solar rooftop installation.

Solyndra is turning heads with its cheap, curvy solar roofs.  The new roofs are composed of a series of tubes, as opposed to the traditional blocky flat shingles.  The company is brewing up the new cells using a mixture of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium.  The company deposits this semiconductor mix on an inner glass tube, then encases it in another glass tube, complete with electrical connections, similar to those found in fluorescent lights.

The resulting solar device has two key advantages.  First it generates more power over the course of the day, improving its total output.  This is due to the fact that part of the of tube's solar material is normal (at a right angle) to the incoming sunlight throughout the day as the sun changes position in the sky.  The second key advantage of the cells is aerodynamics.  The new cells are less wind resistant, so they are cheaper to install.

Chris Gronet, Solyndra's CEO says the cells will help to further cut solar power's costs bring unsubsidized solar energy closer to fossil fuel cost equivalence.  While the company won't say exactly how big an improvement it’s talking about, that’s not stopping it from generating some huge business. 

Solyndra has raised $600M USD in venture capital and has received orders for $1.2B USD of solar panels.  Currently, Solyndra sells exclusively to commercial entities.  It is currently in the process of ramping up its production.  Currently it produces 110 MW worth of solar panels yearly -- it will soon open a new 420 MW-per-year factory.

The new solar panel form factor comes courtesy of thin film solar cells.  The U.S. government and private entities have poured hundreds of millions into researching thin film solar cells, and the research is finally starting to pay off.  Miguel Contreras, a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO, worked with a team at his lab that designed the mix that Solyndra uses.

He states, "There's a lot more flexibility with thin films than there is with [conventional silicon] wafer technologies."

While normal solar cells must be bolted down, Solyndra's new design allows wind to pass freely between the tubes.  It is perfectly secure on rooftops under its own weight, even at winds as high as 130 MPH.

The only downside of the new cells is that the bottom half of the cylinder is in the dark.  However, by painting the roof in a reflective color, such as white, the bottom half can produce power as well, driven by reflected light.  Mr. Gronet further says that by optimizing the manufacturing processes and volumes, his company will be producing unsubsidized cells at or below the average cost of electricity in the United States (about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour) within a few years.

Unfortunately Solyndra, as of yet, has no plans to move outside the commercial roofing business.  For now curvy residential solar roofs and utility-scale solar farms will have to wait.





"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins






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