Whither OptiSolar?

optilogo OptiSolar Inc. extends suspension of their McClellan Park manufacturing plant construction until the second half 2009.
OptiSolar US Patent search results.

OptiSolar to lay off 300 workers” by Celia Lamb with the Sacramento Business Journal was the afternoon news Friday, January 9, 2009. Interviewing OptiSolar VP Communications Alan Bernheimer, Celia Lamb reported:

“It’s the awful economy and the fact we’re unable to access investment funding to support our growth,” Bernheimer said.

The company has not disclosed the amount investors have put into the company, but records filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicate it has raised nearly $300 million through sales of preferred stock to 38 accredited investors. All funding for the company has come from equity investors, Bernheimer said.

How did OptiSolar get to this point?

Everything was moving forward during Solar Power International 2008 with “OptiSolar to Turn on Solar Power Soon” by Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech. About a month later in a large event staged at OptiSolar’s McClellan California facility (please see “Governor Advances State’s Renewable Energy Development”), California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger “signed Executive Order S-14-08 (EO) to streamline California’s renewable energy project approval process and increase the state’s Renewable Energy Standard to 33 percent renewable power by 2020.” Three days later, “OptiSolar suspends McClellan construction” by Celia Lamb with the Sacramento Business Journal confirmed the construction delay until January 2009.

In the span of one month, OptiSolar moved from being unconcerned about the credit crunch and relieved about the passage of the Solar ITC (Investment Tax Credits) to husbanding resources. But this did not derail the 60 Minutes broadcast of “Governor Tours Solar Plant “ (video) showing Governor Schwarzenegger touring the OptiSolar plant with CEO Randy Goldstein.

As “Despite massive cuts, OptiSolar’s Sarnia project spared pain” by Tyler Hamilton at Clean Break first reported, OptiSolar is moving forward with the Sarnia Solar Farm project in Ontario, Canada. OptiSolar confirmed the Sarnia project is in the commissioning phase with about 1 MW (MegaWatt) interconnected. Here is the last Sarnia Solar Farm Project Update – October 2008.

When the prior day in Photovoltaics: 7 Trends to Watch in 2009 I predicted, “OptiSolar, Inc. will come out of the closet,” I was not presaging this dramatic development. I expected OptiSolar would reveal more about their amorphous silicon (a-Si) thin film technology and production module efficiency in 2009. To date, the best attempt at OptiSolar technology deduction is “Numbers game: Thin-film solar PV enigma OptiSolar peeks out from behind the curtain” in the Chip Shots blog by Tom Cheyney at PV-tech.org.

I decided to include references to OptiSolar’s PECVD (Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition) US patents and published patent applications to encourage technologist scrutiny. During my patent searches, I discovered two interesting facts:

  • One or more of the original PECVD patent applications were first filed by the Hewlett Packard Company when I presume OptiSolar Chief Scientist Marv Keshner was still center director for HP laboratories and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for two business units. As an accommodation, I wonder if HP has an equity interest, investment, or both in OptiSolar?
  • Most US Patent Application Publications list Dr. Keshner and OptiSolar (or HP) colleagues but omit any reference to OptiSolar or the earlier Gen 3 Solar. I assume this is intended to foil competitors and Bloggers?

Per my search efforts, here are OptiSolar’s US patents and published patent applications in a Picasa slideshow and list form:

US Patents

7,264,849 Roll-vortex plasma chemical vapor deposition method

7,464,663 Roll-vortex plasma chemical vapor deposition system

US Patent Application Publications

20090004363 PLASMA ENHANCED CHEMICHAL VAPOR DEPOSITION APPARATUS AND METHOD
(Ed. Note: “CHEMICHAL” is spelled this way in the published patent application!)

20080264483 AMORPHOUS SILICON PHOTOVOLTAIC CELLS HAVING IMPROVED LIGHT TRAPPING AND ELECTRICITY-GENERATING METHOD

20080236571 SOLAR PANEL SYSTEM AND METHOD UTILIZING UNFRAMED SOLAR PANELS

20080230108 SOLAR PANEL APPARATUS AND METHOD UTILIZING POUNDED VERTICAL SUPPORTS

20080139003 BARRIER COATING DEPOSITION FOR THIN FILM DEVICES USING PLASMA ENHANCED CHEMICAL VAPOR DEPOSITION PROCESS

I have heard rumors about OptiSolar’s a-Si module efficiency being “very low”. Even if their product has a low cost per Watt, it is hard to imagine how OptiSolar can be a competitive power producer without at least 9-10% module efficiency when their production ramps to supply the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm project in 2010 to 2011.

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