Ohio solar manufacturer sees a niche for its cadmium telluride panels

Toledo Solar plans to ship the first products next month and scale up this year.

An Ohio solar company started producing its first solar panels made from a different material than the industry go-to — silicon — and it hopes to gain traction in a niche market this year. More after today’s tech headlines…

Today’s headlines:

📶 SMART GRID: St. Louis-based utility Ameren is developing its own wireless broadband network to support technologies such as drone inspections and closed-circuit monitoring of its electric grid. The news comes after the FCC voted to make part of the low-band spectrum available for utilities. (Utility Dive)

🔋 ENERGY STORAGE: Batteries are six times cheaper than they were a decade ago, and analysts expect the trend to continue moving forward with big implications for the competitiveness of electric vehicles and variable renewable energy on the electric grid. (Ars Technica)

♽ RECYCLING: Chemical recycling, or advanced recycling, could help solve the world’s plastics crisis. The process involves decomposing plastics into simple compounds that can be reassembled into new products that a virtually indistinguishable from new virgin plastic. (Ensia)

Now more on Toledo Solar

The company touts itself as the first U.S. cadmium telluride solar plant to serve non-utility customers. It launched last year and began producing panels in April. The company distinguishes itself from nearby competitor First Solar by targeting a niche market: residential, commercial, and industrial customers. “That’s our goal: to get really, really good at servicing the non-utility markets,” said Aaron Bates, chairman of The Atlas Venture Group, which formed Toledo Solar.

Toledo Solar sells its panels directly to select solar installers, not distributors. The panels are 100% manufactured in Toledo and 90% of the materials are sourced within 120 miles of Toledo.

The impact: Silicon-based panels have been the darling of the solar industry in recent years, but they are primarily manufactured in China, which has created supply chain problems and backlogs during the pandemic. Cadmium telluride solar panels are more heat-resistant than silicon models and therefore function better and have a longer lifespan, Bates said. They also function better in low-light or cloudy conditions.

Why now?: Cadmium telluride solar research advanced in Ohio over the past few decades and gained commercial success thanks in a large part to First Solar. Willard & Kelsey produced similar cadmium telluride panels but stalled and eventually closed in 2013. Toledo Solar purchased Willard & Kelsey’s assets and moved into the space last year. “The solar industry in the U.S. was 5 to 10 years ahead of itself from a market perspective… That happens with new technologies and companies, sometimes they’re too early,” Bates said. Now is the right time to try again, however, considering what Forbes cited as the recent “near-exponential growth” in solar.

What’s next: Toledo Solar intends to get the first panels to customers in June. It strives to reach 100 MW production capacity by the end of this year and 200 MW by the end of 2021.

I want to hear about other companies that are applying technology to boost sustainability. If you work for one or know of one, let me know so I can feature it in a future newsletter. Email katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend and I’ll see you back here on Tuesday!

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