HyperSolar or Hype?

There are legitimate breakthroughs. And everyone involved in covering solar technology wishes for more.

But extraordinary claims should still require extraordinary proof.

What brings this to mind is HyperSolar, a company based in Santa Barbara that wants to fit existing solar panels with thin-film photonics that will concentrate solar wavelengths and make the panels more efficient.

Well, they’ve got a prototype.

Before issuing their press release, the company pre-briefed blogger Karl Burkart of Mother Nature News. Burkart went with it February 9. He used a picture given him by the company (part of it is to the right), wrote glowing-and-green about its theoretical promise, and had his post picked up by Forbes five days later, verbatim.

A day after the Forbes story hit the press release went out , after which millions of shares were traded, with a pop of a few cents per share. It was a “nice breakout” that drew the attention of penny stock gurus.

This was all part of a larger publicity campaign by CEO Tim Young, who cited work done at UC Santa Barbara by chief scientist Nadir Dagli.

Before joining REW I wrote about medical technology, and I learned in covering that beat about how the game proceeds. Theories are followed by a first-stage trial, which may get a lot of publicity, and a second stage trial, which draws great investor interest.

Most of these solutions, however, fail to perform. Either there are side effects, or the results in a broad cross-section of people are not what was first claimed. Most research studies, it turns out, are wrong

The same is going to be true in solar energy. A lot of breakthroughs aren’t going to prove out. A prototype is not a market solution.

After some years, after many millions in investment, HyperSolar might have a product. The dream is that you can lay their sheets on existing solar installations and instantly increase output by up to 300%.

I don’t think that will happen. But something really good may come of this, maybe in 2013, maybe in 2015. A product might emerge.

Meanwhile Tim Young is selling a lot of stock. If this idea is so good why isn’t he backed by big venture capitalists? Why is he on the public market?

Because this is a long shot. Because he just has a prototype. He hasn’t proven he can even manufacture this thing, we don’t know his materials and labor cost, we don’t know if it can scale. There’s a lot we don’t know.

All of us covering this space need to remember that. Breakthroughs are great. Breakthroughs are coming.

But claims of breakthroughs aren’t solutions.

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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