12 October 2020
DSM and Lightyear aim to design solar roofs for all types of electric vehicles
Converting oil into energy without burning it. That is exactly what Solarge does with its lightweight solar panels made of fiber-reinforced polymers and plastic roofs with integrated panels that are fully recyclable. Because polymers are considerably lighter than glass, the panels are particularly suitable for the numerous industrial roofs that cannot bear the weight of glass. The market potential of the panels is immense: only in the Netherlands there is room for about 65 gigawatts of solar panels. Now only about 6 to 7 gigawatts are used.
Gerard de Leede is Chief Strategy Officer at Solarge and part-time professor of Smart Energy at Jheronimus Academy of Data Science. After a long career at among others Philips and TNO he has mainly focused on solar energy since 2017. “When I became CTO at Heijmans in 2014, the seeds were sown for Solarge. I started Solarge together with Huib van den Heuvel, who was director at Solliance at the time. We formally started in 2018 and now have a strategic partnership with SABIC, we have developed two products, a pilot plant is running in Eindhoven with a pilot installation at Eindhoven University of Technology, eleven people are on the payroll, we have a considerable amount of megawatt peak in pre-orders, a range of investors is interested and we expect to be able to start up a first factory in the Netherlands within the nearby future. ”
“Solar energy is our largest source of energy and we expect that the sun will become the leading energy supplier worldwide. Panels have great potential and, moreover, an increasing return due to rapidly evolving technological developments. Moore's law will apply to this for at least another twenty years. The demand for panels, including replacement demand, is high. This makes it a very attractive field but although solar panels mostly have advantages, there are also some disadvantages. You can, for example, think of the price, the footprint, the weight, and the aesthetics. That offers room for innovation and we have acted on that. ”
“We embraced the idea of an engineer at SABIC that he could use polymers, or in other words plastics, to produce panels. This has the advantage that roofs of, for example, agricultural or logistics buildings that cannot bear the weight of regular glass panels, can also be used. Because the panels can be recycled almost entirely in the same chain, hardly any of the raw materials ever get lost. Glass panels are also recycled but not in the same chain. We make the polymers out of oil once and then it is never lost again. ”
“The efficiency that our panels achieve is equal to the efficiency of glass panels. You can actually see our company as a packer of solar cells. We currently use crystalline solar cells, as are also used for glass panels. At the same time, we keep an eye on developments that may increase returns, such as the possibilities that Perovskite offers. We are also working with Solliance on a project to explore the possibilities of dual layer solar cell technology. You then use a crystalline cell and put a layer on top of it, which converts even more light into electricity, which leads to higher efficiency.”
“Furthermore our panels have a 25-year warranty, but the replacement need will undoubtedly come sooner. If, after ten years, a new generation panels is developed that offer a much higher yield, our panels are very easy to replace and fully reuse. The moment on which you do that is a calculation that will undoubtedly be made by the buyers in the industry. In the coming years I expect that replacement demand will result in other business models and ultimately I expect a shift to energy as a service.”
“As mentioned, we as Solarge primarily focus on industrial and commercial buildings. Our panels are less attractive to private individuals because they are simply not yet sufficiently competitive from a cost perspective. For this, the scale of production has to increase. It's a different story for industrial roofs. Besides the light weight, the panels are easier to install, replace and transport. Moreover, the synthetic roofs with integrated panels immediately provide additional insulation.”
“In the longer term, our panels could become price-competitive for private individuals. The production of a polymer panel, for example, is also cheaper than a glass panel, glass has to be heated at 1500 degrees, polymers considerably less. But the private market is something of the future. The main question we are dealing with now is how to take the hurdle towards the desired production level. We are currently attracting the investments needed to start a Dutch factory with the first complete production lines. ”
“Obtaining funding for the development and marketing of these types of technologies is not easy. It is my opinion that the government should have a larger, coordinating role in this. The same applies to the future of energy, appropriate energy legislation and a critical view of how we deal with system architecture and how we can use AI for our network problems. That is something you cannot leave to the market alone. It requires an enterprising government and a good investment climate.
“Sun will become the main energy source worldwide and my expectation is that more than half of the panels worldwide will be built our way, based on polymers. If you take that into account and add the replacement market, the potential is enormous. We want to have a factory in the Netherlands up and running within one to two years. Within five years, our goal is to open multiple factories in Europe and then in a significant part of the world. We really have something special here that can be groundbreaking at a global level.”