Large-scale solar projects work because they use concentrators to achieve much greater efficiencies than what’s possible with traditional silicon photovoltaic panels. Up until now, residential projects have not had access to concentrator technology, and the limited spectral response and effectiveness of silicon has made it hard to get efficiencies much past about 20%. Startup Jetstream is planning to change that, with the first concentrator-based system suitable for residential use.
Jetstream’s Newgen system is a standalone mounted array of modular units arranged in a honeycomb. The entry-level product is promotionally priced at $10,000, and can generate up to 3.5 KW. It does this in a relatively small area by using Fresnel lenses in front of each module. The lenses focus radiation (it uses more than just visible light) onto a proprietary, palm-sized, module that turns it into electricity. The company says that because Newgen utilizes a broad part of the spectrum, it operates at excellent efficiency at almost all times of day (from about 15 minutes after sunrise to about the same amount of time before sunset), and in a wide variety of weather conditions. Using more of the spectrum also means its modules are already testing at 44.8% efficient (about double a state of the art PV panel), and the company expects to blow past 50% fairly soon.
For your $10K, you get a palette load of goodies that includes everything you need for a DIY solar install. The free-standing array also includes an inverter that can be configured to supply 110v or 220v at 50Hz or 60Hz. As a further boost to efficiency, it also features built-in 2-axis tracking. It is hard to compare the cost directly with a silicon PV array with the same nameplate power rating, since the Jetstream system should generate more power for more of the day. But it pencils out equivalent to about a $2/watt PV system — before tax credits or other subsidies. If the company can actually pull that off, it will make solar a no-brainer for a lot more homes. Jetstream claims payback of about five years (non-subsidized) in an average location, and in a year for those paying Tier 5 rates in California.
The company has already gotten a lot of pre-orders, but it won’t be delivering production units for another year. Initially, they will all be DIY, but after about another year it plans to start supporting a network of installers.
While they had a fully functional module at the show, the showcase system didn’t include any functional electronics. I asked if they’d consider licensing their technology to others, so that it could get to market faster, and in greater volume, but they said they were not interested in doing that. So, given all the risks in delivering a technology this aggressive, we’ll be keeping track of how they do against their milestones, and hopefully will be able to report that they’re shipping by next year’s CES.
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