Swiss solar panel startup Insolight has raised $5m to commercialise its high eficiency translucent technology for agrivoltaic smart agriculture applications.
Funding of comes from Swiss investors alongside the CHF10m ($10m, €10.6m) EU HIPERION project that is building a pilot line for the technology.
The company is a spinoff from EPFL in Lausanne and has developed a transparent solar panel technology with an efficiency of 29 percent, significantly higher than other technologies. It is initially aiming at panels that can act as both greenhouse covers and power plants, hence the term agrivoltaic.
Lenses embedded in a thin glass layer focus sunlight on tiny, high-efficiency, space-grade solar cells below. The lenses move a few millimeters throughout the day to track the sun’s movement across the sky and keep the cells aligned with the light rays. The system can be fitted to conventional solar panels to maximize energy production which means that it can take advantage of the improvements in conversion efficiency from lower cost tandem perovskite solar cells to get similar efficiencies.
The translucent modules can also work as standalone power plants while serving other functions such as promoting crop growth. In tests at Tecnova Foundation, an agricultural technology center in Spain, the system increased crop biomass by 20% by creating a micro-climate, protecting plants from extreme weather conditions, and modulating direct sunlight.
“The agrivoltaics market may be relatively new, but it’s already worth an estimated CHF 700 million ($700m), with total installed capacity of 5 GWp,” said Laurent Coulot, CEO of InsoLight. “In addition to developing a pilot assembly line, we will also further demonstrate the performance and reliability of our innovation through qualification tests and several commercial pilot sites across Europe,” he said.
Insolight is planning to team up with major solar energy suppliers to target the agricultural sector with panels that can be installed in fields, on greenhouses and on green roofs.