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SPIE Professional April 2009

Solyndra's Cylindrical Innovation

A photonics innovation advances the adoption of renewable solar energy.

By Kathy Sheehan

photovoltaic cylinder

The cylindrical photovoltaic system that won a Prism Award for Photonics Innovation is a timely contribution from the optics community to the development of alternative energy.

Solyndra’s solar PV system, which won in the sustainable, green technology category, uses a patented cylindrical module that captures more sunlight and generates up to 25% more electricity than conventional flat panel systems.

Its innovative design, energy efficiency, and low installation cost are solving two major barriers to large-scale adoption of solar energy: the need for efficient rooftop coverage and reduced installation cost.

The CIGS-based thin-film PV panels from the California startup, each consisting of 40 cylindrical, or tubular, modules, are mounted horizontally on a roof.

The system generates more electricity because the panels are suspended a foot above the roof, covering more of the roof’s usable surface than flat panels. And because of their shape, the tubes absorb and convert direct, diffuse, and reflected sunlight from every angle. Panels simply click together and can be installed much quicker than flat panels which require costly, tilted mounting devices to improve the capture of direct light only.

Solyndra’s system is especially popular in the commercial sector with its many flat and low-slope roofs.



“By eliminating the need for roof-penetrating mounts and wind ballasts, PV arrays with Solyndra panels can be installed with one-third the labor, in one-third of the time, at one-half the cost,” says Manfred Bachler, CTO at Phoenix Solar AG, one of the largest solar power integrators in Europe and a Solyndra customer.

“For commercial rooftops, PV module installation time can now be measured in days, not weeks. For flat commercial rooftops, this is game-changing technology,” Bachler says.

With $1.5 billion in orders from Europe and the United States, Solyndra announced in January it would open a European headquarters near Munich in Holzkirchen, Germany.

“The commercial rooftops of Europe are an immense opportunity for the generation of solar electricity and are of growing importance with favorable incentive support in many countries,” says Solyndra CEO and founder Chris Gronet.

The panels have received International Electro Technical Commission (IEC) and product certifications as well as GSE qualification for Italy’s feed-in tariff system. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems has independently validated the energy yield performance.

Solyndra's Tubular Solution

Solyndra stands to benefit from new “cool roof” laws that require all new commercial buildings in California to have white roofs to reflect sunlight and keep buildings cooler. Solyndra’s solar tubes can convert even more sunlight by capturing the increased reflectivity of a white roof.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200904.04

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