In a public-private partnership that takes full advantage of the Livermore Valley Open Campus for the first time, Sandia National Laboratories and Cool Earth Solar announced Tuesday that they have signed an agreement that could make solar energy more affordable and accessible.
The five-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement calls for researchers with Sandia's New Mexico solar energy program to help pilot, characterize and validate Cool Earth Solar's inflated, concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) technology. The Livermore-based company's equipment will be located on a five-acre site known as the Clean Energy Demonstration Field on the Open Campus site.
One of Cool Earth Solar's units already has been set up, with dozens more planned over the next five years. The unit is connected to Sandia's power grid, and up to 500 kilowatts of solar power could be provided to the labs by 2018.
"Sandia's partnership with Cool Earth Solar shows that the labs are looking for new ways of doing business and collaborating with external entities," said Andy McIlroy, Sandia's senior manager for the open campus site's development efforts. "It demonstrates that we're open to win-win opportunities that meet our national security mission and, at the same time, help our partners to move forward with technology that makes the world a better place."
The Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC) is a 110-acre parcel that spans the eastern sides of Sandia/California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Historically, both labs have been closed and self-contained, making some external alliances difficult due to administrative and security challenges.
The LVOC was established in 2011 as a space for open, collaborative work in such fields as bioscience, cybersecurity, detection technologies and energy applications.
"This agreement with Sandia and the Department of Energy represents the 'coming out,' the first-ever public deployment of our technology," said Rob Lamkin, CEO of Cool Earth Solar. "We are pleased to be pioneers of both our unique solar technology as well as the Open Campus concept."
High costs have hindered efforts to make large-scale solar a viable energy option. Cool Earth Solar's approach, Lamkin said, has been to use inexpensive, thin-film plastic as the core material for its equipment.
"For our equipment to capture the same amount of solar energy as more traditional solar equipment, we use less than half the materials in terms of weight and mass," Lamkin said. "Then, when you factor in the fact that the little material we do use is a whole lot cheaper, that's how we drive down the cost."
Cool Earth Solar's out-of-the-box approach is exciting and has the potential to meet the DOE's SunShot program goal of grid parity by 2020, said Charles Hanley, manager of Sandia's solar program in Albuquerque. The SunShot initiative seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.
"One of the primary goals of Sandia's energy program and our solar portfolio in particular is to help accelerate technology development for the private sector," Hanley said. "Cool Earth Solar's installation at Sandia's Clean Energy Demonstration Field is a great example of how our partnerships with the private sector support DOE's SunShot goals."
"Sandia's (agreement) with Cool Earth Solar is an example of how we're supporting the U.S. solar industry to develop new technologies that will meet our SunShot targets," added Kevin Lynn, DOE's team lead for systems integration efforts in the SunShot Initiative.
Though both organizations agreed that establishing a new business arrangement as part of the LVOC initiative was a challenge, Sandia and Cool Earth Solar were up to the task.
"Working with a start-up company like Cool Earth Solar has been fun and energizing," McIlroy said. "There is a lot of verve and vitality to be found at Cool Earth Solar, and that creates a strong sense that they're doing something important and exciting."
"For some time now, we had hoped to find a national laboratory partner to give us a different technical perspective on our technology, help improve it, and drive it toward commercialization with us," Lamkin said. Sandia made perfect sense, he said, since the labs possess decades of solar expertise and maintain a Livermore site less than three miles from Cool Earth Solar's offices. Lamkin credited former Sandia/California Vice President Rick Stulen for championing the partnership and shepherding it to fruition.
In addition to the Sandia/LVOC deployment, Cool Earth Solar is developing commercial sites for the future deployment of its technology in northern California and Texas. "We've spent years developing the technology, so now it's time to deploy it and invite the public to come see it," said Lamkin.
As for Sandia, McIlroy said the Cool Earth Solar deployment on the LVOC signifies the first of what he hopes will be other industry partners on the Open Campus.
"We very much want to reach a wider community of partners on the LVOC, including academic, industrial and other laboratory collaborators," he said. "What I hope people see in the Cool Earth Solar demonstration project is that the labs are serious about exploring new ways of doing business, particularly with small businesses and start-ups that are such a strong part of the Bay Area's culture and economic engine."