Folsom Labs: Another Example Why Solar Is The Future

Posted: Jan 13 2014, 1:01pm CST | by


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Folsom Labs: Another Example Why Solar Is The Future
Photo Credit: Forbes

In solar, bankability is the ultimate four-letter word.

Getting final bank approval is one of the most arduous, and needlessly expensive, processes in putting together commercial or utility solar power plants. Developers seeking loans have to provide meticulous information about performance, product specifications and projected output to banks. Incorporating a particular inverter or other piece of technology can kill a deal or require the developers to return to the drawing  board.

Soft costs like financing account for 64% of the cost of a system, according to the National Renewable Energy Labs. Financing rates aren’t cheap either: the Rocky Mountain Institute estimated that the cost of credit for utility and commercial projects on average in 2012 came to 9 to 9.2 percent.

HelioScope, a cloud-based platform from a new company called Folsom Labs, is part of an industry-wide effort to change that. HelioScope effectively lets engineers create accurate, granular models of solar power plants. Current modeling tools create models generally take a top-down approach to modeling and operate on various assumptions, claims founder Paul Grana.

“We do the physics from the bottom up,” he says, resulting in a more accurate projection. Just as important, it’s fast. Let’s say a developer designed a 100-megawatt system with a particular brand of solar panel. The bank sneers. An engineer can quickly swap in a higher-performance (albeit more expensive) panel and in a few minutes you have a complete new model of the solar farm based on the different panel.

Going back to the drawing board is far less arduous, which in turn cuts the time and energy required to obtain financing. Dan Holloway at developer Cobalt Power Systems says that the tool has helped cut layout time by 50o to 75%.

A study by DNV GL found that HelioScope was within 1 percent of the performance of conventional tools.

But back to the headline: Why does a software tool like this mean solar will become the default choice of energy in the future. Unlike most other energy and cleantech markets, solar is horizontally focused. The industry is growing because companies are driving innovation and lowering costs by focusing on very specific segments of the value chain. Panel prices plummeted in the 2000s because of an intense focus on reducing silicon and boosting performance. Enphase Energy inspired companies like Tigo Energy to concentrate on optimizing the electronics that go into arrays.

In the past few years, there’s been an influx of companies promising to reduce the paperwork involved in completing residential and commercial deals. (For a hilarious send up on paperwork, read Barry Cinnamon’s article here.)

Horizontal business models helped drive the computer industry. You see it in LEDs, but it’s far less pronounced in markets like wind or fossil fuels. And it’s no coincidence that both solar and LEDs have enjoyed steady and steep price declines.

Source: Forbes

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