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Palo Alto Research Centre Teams Up With SolFocus To Deliver Affordable Solar Energy

The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) today announced a partnership with SolFocus, Inc., a manufacturer of low-cost solar energy systems which will employ PARC technology to cut the cost of solar power by as much as half.

The venture builds on the original SolFocus design for concentrator photovoltaic technology. CPV technology creates electricity by using precision optical components such as lenses and mirrors to direct and "concentrate" sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells. SolFocus' prototype solar panels are smaller, cheaper, and easier to manufacture than the flat-plate photovoltaic panels that currently dominate the market.

PARC is contributing core patents and long-term technology development support for current and next-generation product lines in exchange for royalties and equity in SolFocus.

The venture is a result of PARC's "clean technologies" initiative, a research program designed to focus on key areas of renewable energy. It employs PARC's unique multidisciplinary approach to develop fresh ways to solve energy challenges, including solar energy generation; energy distribution, reduction and conservation; and contamination monitoring.

Gary Conley, SolFocus chief executive officer, said, "We value PARC's commitment to developing clean technology and the collaborative way it innovates. We teamed with PARC to help improve our first product concept and to accelerate a second-generation product that promises even greater performance.

"The first-generation panels will break price barriers in the market, but the second-generation panels with PARC technology will change the market for solar dramatically," he said. "The current installed cost of the flat-plate photovoltaic systems is about $7 per watt, but our approach should produce electricity for about half that amount -- or less."

The SolFocus first-generation design for a low-cost photovoltaic module was honored with the grand prize at the recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory's 18th Industry Growth Forum. Production planning for it is currently under way in Shanghai, and it is expected to ship within the year.

The second-generation design dramatically improves cost, durability and scalability. The innovative module design is based on a solid-state, or "one-piece," concept featuring small reflective concentrator elements housed in a flat molded glass tile with mirrors on each side. Among the advantages of the new module: it does not use scarce silicon, it has no moving parts that could lead to mechanical failure, it has minimal components, and assembly technology is automated. Together, these features have yielded breakthrough improvements in cost, size, durability, and scalability.

The first-generation SolFocus CPV prototypes were installed at PARC in January 2006. According to Scott Elrod, head of PARC's clean tech initiative, their installation signaled his program's progress. "We believe there are big market opportunities in clean technology, and we have a half-dozen additional projects under way that could be equally transformative."

Under PARC's clean technologies initiative, research teams identify market opportunities relating to energy or the environment and apply an intensely interdisciplinary approach to develop innovative, market-driven technology solutions. PARC frequently collaborates with industry partners and has addressed solar energy, clean water, energy efficiency, and improved reliability of the power grid.

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