CleanTech OC Daily - 12/14/12

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why greentech startups need to renew their focus on volume manufacturing
Kunal Girotra of ThinSilicon shares his views about volume manufacturing and how greentech startups should shift there focus to increased output. Girotra beleives that one factor that startups are missing is an intense focus on manufacturing. He goes on to share some ways greentech startups could overcome issues with scaling up to volume manufacturing:
1). Obtain an experienced crew that can transfer R&D processes into a pilot line with an extreme focus on improving yields. Ensure that every employee understands that true success comes not from obtaining one-off records or champion results but from volume data obtained from processing hundreds of samples. At Samsung, no champion results were ever reported as an accomplishment in an upcoming line since those results are meaningless until proven at scale. Companies like Miasole in Silicon Valley took the right approach of involving Intel manufacturing experts for their solar panel factories and it would be wise for others to follow suit.
2). Manufacturing is a costly endeavor and gives the most bang for buck when it’s running 24/7. Hence it’s advisable to not wait for a perfect product but transfer an intermediate process and iron out kinks in the production process. A lower specification product with 90 percent yield might have better economics than having a higher performing product with a 50 percent yield, assuming the market will accept such a product for some time. There is no better example than First Solar who has continued to sell less than 12 percent efficient solar panels for a long time proving that there is room for a lower specification product if you make manufacturing extremely efficient.
3). Excellence in manufacturing depends on the company’s ability to expand and build future lines. For a Silicon Valley startup, a pilot line locally in the area might make sense to be close to the R&D team. But it might be wise to take the cue from other high tech companies and move manufacturing to nearby states given their lower costs of land and permitting, robust manufacturing ecosystem and availability of manufacturing talent. Several companies like Stion, Soladigm and others have already taken that approach, which is a good sign.

A new report from Ceres, WWF, and Calvert Investments indicates that much of the global clean energy investment  activity is being driving by large corporations who are setting internal sustainability goals in order to reduce their environmental impact. The report states that 68 percent of companies in the Global 100 list have set targets to lower global warming pollution or purchase clean energy - an important and positive shift in corporate culture.

On Wednesday, the DOE announced that seven “advanced technology” demonstration projects would receive up to $4 million each for engineering, site evaluation and planning work. After the initial funding, three projects would be selected for additional funding - $47 million over four years. Seattle-based Principle Power is behind the lone West Coast project, a floating turbine in Coos Bay. The company uses a platform design (WindFloat) which anchors turbines far offshore where strong wind blows more consistently and waters are too deep for conventional turbine structures.

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