Solar start-up Semprius is on the verge of generating more than 250 new green jobs over the next five years with a new ultra-small solar cell that is half the size of a pinhead, called a high concentration photovoltaic cell. The company has just announced plans to build a new factory to make the cells in Henderson, NC, which has been struggling with an unemployment rate as high as 13.3 percent this year. The kicker is that the commercial potential of the new cell was pushed forward in partnership with federal research and development funding, without which the new cell and all those new jobs would still be a twinkle in someone’s eye.
Federal Support for Green Jobs
The new factory – and the new green jobs – are the direct result of federal support for renewable energy innovations even as far back as the Bush administration. In 2007 Semprius (a spinoff from research conducted at another public institution, the University of Illinois), won a “NextGen” grant from the Department of Energy to develop the technology leading to ultra-small solar cells. In 2010 under the Obama administration the company earned a coveted spot in the Photovoltaic Incubator Program. That status gave the company access to federal resources and guidance from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in order to get the technology into competitive shape for mass market production.
Sunshot and the Solar Energy Market
The Incubator program dovetails with President Obama’s Sunshot Initiative. As with the Moonshot program of the 1960’s, which deployed massive public resources to coordinate and support innovation leading to a new era of space exploration, Sunshot is designed to get cutting edge solar technology out of the lab and into the hands of people who can use it, leading to a new era in safer and more sustainable energy production.
Micro-Printing High Concentration Solar Cells
The minute size of Semprius’s cell and its potential for low-cost production are made possible by the use of standard manufacturing processes combined with micro-transfer printing, which applies circuits through a chemical reaction to eliminate the “dicing” or separation step of the process. When combined with powerful but inexpensive lenses, the new cells concentrate energy from the sun more than 11,000 times.
More Green Jobs in the U.S.A.
Semprius joins 20 other solar startups that have cycled through the Incubator program in the past few years. The result has been $1.3 billion in private investment against only $50 million in Department of Energy funding. According to Minh Le of DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program, including Semprius’s 250 jobs the program has already yielded 3,800 full time positions planned for new solar factories in the U.S., in addition to the hundreds of employees already at work in R&D and other high value positions.
Image: Courtesy of Semprius.
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