Cool Earth Solar at the 22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum

[Denver, Colorado USA]

Driving down the cost and pounds per kiloWatt (kW).
Revised plans to build a ~1 MW (MegaWatt) pilot power plant in 2010.

From 22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum

Cool Earth Solar CEO Rob Lamkin pitched the company at the 22nd National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Industry Growth Forum last week in Denver, Colorado.

After the introduction, Mr. Lamkin said:

I am very excited about the Cool Earth Solar technology.
It was developed specifically and with the intent of further driving down the cost of solar and being able to ramp up and scale the business massively.

From 22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum

Describing the inflated solar concentrator, Mr. Lamkin highlighted the minimal use of cheap and abundant materials such as plastic thin films to form the concentrator balloon. The balloon is 10 feet (~3.05 meters) across and uses about 2 pounds (~0.91 kilograms) of plastic. Sunlight entering the clear top film is reflected by the inside bottom film onto a water cooled PV (Photovoltaic) receiver resulting in 300 to 600 times concentration depending on the PV material utilized.

Each concentrator can generate over 1 kiloWatt (kW) with active air inflation to maintain focus, a closed loop water system for receiver cooling, and two axis tracking to keep it on sun.

Mr. Lamkin claimed Cool Earth Solar had a huge advantage in minimizing material use and compared Cool Earth’s 120 pounds (54.4 kilograms) per kW to wind turbines which require about 1000 pounds (454 kilograms) per kW.

Comparing Cool Earth Solar to other renewable technologies, Rob Lamkin said:

We believe by next year we’ll be able to clearly demonstrate we are at $1 per Watt installed with a Cool Earth Solar power system. This will allow us to meet fossil fuels and allow us to scale up the business very rapidly.

“Market Size and Revenue Potential: 2015-2020”
The initial market focus of Cool Earth Solar is the six (6)
southwestern United States representing a 1028 TWh (TeraWatt-hour) electricity market by 2020 and an unmet RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) mandate of 218 TWh. Cool Earth Solar is targeting around five (5) percent of the southwestern market or 11 TWh per year by 2020 and generating some $1.5 Billion in revenue.

Status and Schedule
After Cool Earth Solar founder, President, and CTO
Dr. Eric Cummings bootstrapped and obtained seed funding for the patent filings and the Gen 1 (first generation) prototype, the February 2008 $21 million Series A financing enabled the deployment of Gen 2 prototypes.

Providing a status update, CEO Lamkin said:

Over the summer, once we collected that operating data, we developed and designed our third generation (Gen 3) of the technology and I am excited to report that we are now deploying that out into the field. We plan to collect over the winter and into the spring the very important field data and operations data of our equipment. And with that we believe we will be well poised by spring, early summer next year, to go out and seek our Series B round of financing and seek project financing so that we can ramp up our business. We want to ramp from where we are at today at an ability to do 50 MW a year up to 500 MW a year with the closing of this new financing.

Cool Earth Solar’s 1 MW scale pilot power plant construction plans have therefore been delayed since “Cool Earth Solar Constructing First Solar “Balloon” Prototype Plant” by Ariel Schwartz at CleanTechnica or even the recent “Cool Earth: Inflatable solar technology” by Courtney Roby for GreenMomentum.

Gen 3 prototypes are being deployed now and will be tested through 3Q2010. Around 2Q2010, Cool Earth Solar plans to begin construction of the 1 MW pilot power plant with completion slated for year end 2010. Subsequent plans call for the development, project financing, and construction of a 10 MW plant in 2011 followed by the construction start of a 500 MW plant towards 4Q2012.

From 22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum

Business Model
Cool Earth Solar is an Independent Power Producer (IPP) and will build, own, and operate solar power plants based upon their proprietary Concentrated PhotoVoltaic (CPV)
technology. Cool Earth will generate revenue by selling electricity from their solar plants via long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) or Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) with Investor Owned Utilities (IOU) and Municipal Utilities. In fact, the first 1 MW pilot plant will be equity funded and will seek to leverage Feed-in Tariffs offered by PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company) or SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District).

Cool Earth Solar will develop typical projects sized from 10 to 20 MW.

A 10 MW solar plant will cover about 100 acres (40.4 hectares) and can be sited on disturbed land from cattle grazing, farming or other uses. Cool Earth believes the smaller size will facilitate siting closer to load and avoid transmission issues.

Investment Opportunity
Cool Earth Solar plans to seek $75 Million to $90 Million Series B Equity financing in the spring or summer of 2010 and $50 Million Project financing.

Mr. Lamkin expects the first 100 MW of power plants to be 50:50 debt to equity leveraged and said:

What is exciting about 100 MW of Cool Earth Solar power plants is this can produce over $30 Million in revenue each year which gives us a very good payback and provides us more fuel for growth and deploying even more and more MegaWatts of Cool Earth plants.

Answers to the Investor Panel
Here are a summary (not verbatim unless quoted) of select responses by Mr. Lamkin to questions from the VC (Venture Capitalist) dominated investor panel judging his presentation.

Cool Earth Solar will gang projects to do a larger financing of a say 100 MW project pool and at $1 per Watt installed that would represent $100 Million. Series B equity and money left over from Series A will support the equity portion of plant construction.

A 10 MW project will generate $3 Million in revenue per year with $800000 in annual Operations and Maintenance (O&M) costs.

I don’t think we will have to show, to be blunt, any reliability data to utilities.

Where we will need to develop and prove out the reliability is when we go to finance the projects. Our key reliability point will be our inflated concentrators.

Our project finance model that we’ve developed will replace those plastic thin films each and every year.

“At $1 per Watt installed and with a 10 MW plant ongoing O&M will be at about $800000 a year, we believe we are well less than $0.13 per kWh [Ed. Note: kiloWatt-hour].”

I think our cost will be well less than $0.13 a kWh. That what’s we’ll be selling at because that’s the market price. Our O&M is somewhat higher than maybe a PV plant.

The wind load on these structures is very light.

We’ve designed them to point and track, hold concentration and focus, and make energy up to about 25 miles an hour and then after that our energy production rolls off. In the desert southwest, that occurs during the bright sun like 1% of the time. But it’s an economic analysis and tradeoff.

There will be point, I don’t know if it is 2 years down the road or 5 years down the road, where we will definitely be looking at partnerships either with utilities or large customers or looking at licensing. So that will happen. It’s just not what our plan is for the next couple years.

I spoke with Mr. Lamkin just before his presentation. Once key reason Cool Earth Solar participated in the Forum was to raise their profile with NREL. In addition to the 2009 NREL-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors Venture Awards cash prizes, the Forum promises in-kind commercialization support from NREL.

From 22nd NREL Industry Growth Forum

Above is a rare photo of the Cool Earth Solar balloon (“inflated solar concentrator”) with an integrated PV receiver from the Radiant Energy website.

From California Clean Tech Open 2009 Launch

The balloon shown by Cool Earth Solar at the California Clean Tech Open 2009 Launch in March was sans PV receiver. I have heard the receiver has been subject to multiple redesigns. However, Mr. Lamkin told me the principle reasons for Gen 3 were rigging and tracking enhancements.

If Cool Earth Solar can achieve their $1 per Watt installed price target, they could become a formidable reverse auction adversary should the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopt their nonsensical Feed-in Tariff reverse auction pricing proposal.


  1. Hello,
    I am a searcher in clean energy,
    In Solar I have a new research for a new Solar system great output power or cheap energy, must be done at any weather even dark night , using heat and photovoltaic together, its power must be more 4 once any Solar cell (over 800 watt /sq. meter) and other benefits.
    Do we can partnership in it to patent it and make it through your abilities ?
    Mohamed Abdelhafiz

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