Canada — Take a family that includes a brother best described as a Swiss Army Knife-type of engineer, a second brother who spent two years at a Web 2.0 startup in Spain and an angel investor dad with $1 million to back his kids’ idea and you just might end up with a company like Morgan Solar, a startup based in Toronto with a plan to drive down the cost of concentrating solar photovoltaics by rethinking the optics.
As Nic Morgan, aged 37, explains it, his 32-year-old brother John Paul was in Africa “focused on doing something big” when he hit on the idea that a lot of the expense in a concentrating PV system could be reduced by engineering out what is typically an expensive box with bulky mirrors or Fresnel lenses. Reaching back to concepts and fundamentals of fiber optics, John Paul conceived of a 9-inch-square module less than 1 centimeter thick that uses a light guide rather than mirrors to focus the sun’s rays onto a PV cell.
“There isn’t anything in our optics that you’d find in any fiber optics design, rather, the work in fiber optics gave my brother the mental framework to see that inventing a new class of concentrating optics was the logical first step,” Nic Morgan says.
Getting rid of the box and most of the bulk eliminates a lot of costly building material and makes it easier to mass manufacture the modules. The company’s cells will offer average efficiencies of 25 percent, but its first focus is on maximizing process cost reductions. Nic Morgan says the technology is already competitive with silicon PV and module costs will fall below $1 a watt as production ramps up in 2012.
“We don’t need gigawatts to reach optimization,” he says.
The brothers based their company in Toronto in 2007 in part because it is home to them, but also because it offers low-cost office space and a selection of good-quality engineering schools. Also in Toronto’s favor was the area’s under-used manufacturing capacity and expertise, a legacy of the auto industry that proved a plus for their module manufacturing process.
Eric Morgan, CEO of CapGemini Iberia and Latin America, put up $1 million in angel capital for his sons’ venture. Morgan Solar closed its A Round of financing in late 2009, raising $8.2 million from lead investor Iberdrola Renewables, a consortium of U.S. and Canadian venture capitalists and Nypro, a Boston-based injection molding company. “That was tough,” Nic Morgan says of the first round solicitation. “It was 2009, we started looking in April and closed in December during the worst of the financial crisis.”
The company is now in its B Round of funding with a goal to raise $20 to $25 million with a significant share likely to come from a new strategic investor.
The company is currently setting up an optics manufacturing plant in San Diego and plans to target markets in California and Arizona, among others. Morgan Solar plans to build a 200 kW demonstration system at the National Soccer Center in Lancaster, Calif. The system would be paid for by Sustainable Development Technology Canada with help from the University of Ottawa, which will collaborate on monitoring and balance of system. Power generated by the system will likely run a pump to draw well water used to irrigate the soccer fields.