What’s the Problem
Falling solar panel costs helped the solar industry grow 40% per year; however, it’s now stabilizing. To increase ROI, 90% of new solar capacity is tracked (moved by a system to face the sun). Currently, these trackers are too heavy and costly for rooftop solar. Formed from tinkering in a lab, we utilized shape memory alloys to create a non-electric tracker. Our lightweight tracker is priced at $500 versus current trackers at $6,000. Since it’s retrofit-capable, installation is simplified to reduce labor costs. Our vision is to bring tracking to rooftops and developing economies that want to adopt affordable renewables.
Societal and Monetary Benefit
Each extra installed kilowatt of power increases yield by 262.8 kWh per year. Each tracked kilowatt saves $31.54 a year (using the US average of 12 cents per kWh). Not only are we getting large efficiency increases per kilowatt, we are also preventing 410 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere a year. Currently, over 1.8 million homes in the US have fixed solar panel systems, so there is a large opportunity to install retrofit capable trackers to these roofs. This makes solar a much more attractive option, especially for homeowners that are on edge from adopting since the payback period can exceed 10 years in some states. For the average US household, they only hold $16,420 in their savings accounts. Purchasing a solar panel system for a home can cost $13,000 to $16,000. Solar is an option that only the upper end of the market can afford, and we hope to make it much more fiscally attractive with our trackers. This is especially relevant in developing economies that lean towards more fossil fuel heavy energy generation sources like coal since it is cheaper. Although the immediate benefits of power for developing communities spurn economic growth, it comes at a severe cost of pollution in the atmosphere. According to a report by ChinaPower, poor air quality due to coal plants causes 133 million lost workdays a year in China. That’s a loss of 1.34% in real GDP every year due to health issues. Maintaining low-cost energy and preventing pollution requires affordable solar.
The team is currently composed of two engineering students from the University of Texas at Austin. Mandeep is a mechanical engineer and oversees the prototype and testing. He is extremely lean when it comes to prototyping and has used recycled metals and materials to create the initial prototype in Houston. Taylor studied electrical engineering and business and in college. He is in San Francisco having conversations with solar installers to get a better idea of pain points and needs. He is the main contact point with solar installers but also discusses technical design with Mandeep. Both of us are involved in fundraising and IP protection.
Status and Future Roadmap
Our current status: created a prototype to test in Houston, established connections with suppliers to create springs to our specs, and conversed with solar installers in California. We have three first-year goals: research and development to raise efficiency, design for manufacturing, and partnerships with installers and suppliers.