Insolight – a Climate Innovator on the fast track

Apart from some of the world’s most powerful leaders, we all know global warming is no fantasy – and we know we need to take action. The switch from fossil and nuclear energy sources to renewable energy is an essential step that confronts us with huge challenges. Challenges that have a great potential for innovation, as the startup Insolight recognized: they have developed solar panels that broke an efficiency world record.

The three Co-Founders of Insolight: Mathieu Ackermann, CTO, Laurent Coulot, CEO and Florian Gerlich, COO

The 3 Co-Founders of Insolight: Mathieu Ackermann, CTO, Laurent Coulot, CEO and Florian Gerlich, COO

Current challenges

Currently, Solar energy is not very efficient. Traditional silicon solar cells are cheap to manufacture, but have a low to medium efficiency converting 15 to 20% of the sun’s energy into usable electricity. The ones that are more efficient are not affordable at the moment. Therefore, the proportion of solar energy to overall consumption in Switzerland is still relatively low, and solar energy is still quite far away from completely replacing fossil or nuclear energy.

A different approach

However, instead of not considering solar energy as a valuable option, we should invest time and money to make them more efficient. Insolight, a startup that has been founded in 2015 is doing this exact thing: They have developed efficient and cost effective solar panels using affordable technologies, with the ambitious aim to reach a 40% efficiency. While most of the industry focuses on silicon solar cells, their innovation is rather based on optics. The technology, called planar optical micro-tracking, allows to concentrate sunlight on tiny solar cells, without any tilt. This makes the use of high efficiency space-grade solar cells affordable, whereas normally there are too expensive to be spread on the full sunlit area. “So far our prototype was validated by a Third Party at 36 % efficiency, while standard panels are at 18-20%. This result is eligible for a flat panel efficiency world record.” says Laurent Coulot, CEO of Insolight.

Making solar energy competitive

The next step for Insolight step is the construction of an outdoor pilot site in order to demonstrate the performance over an extended period of time. This is a necessary validation before starting the commercialization of the technology, scheduled for 2018. Even if there is still a long way to go and quite a lot of work between validating a prototype and being ready for commercialization, Coulot is optimistic: ” In a country like Switzerland, where space is constrained and costs of labor are high, it is key to install high efficiency solar panels in order to have a good return-on-investment. By improving the electricity production for the same area, it becomes possible to have a better payback than with standard low efficiency panels. Our long-term goal is to team up with local solar project developers and win significant market shares. We want to make solar energy even more competitive with a disruptive increase of the efficiency, which will be the key differentiator as panel cost optimization has been achieved. ”

Insolight came just at the right moment: A few days before their prototype was validated at Fraunhofer Institute, MIT and Masdar Institute had announced that they had created a solar cell with 35% efficiency. These examples show how much is going on in the field of solar energy: Research has increased solar panel efficiency while reducing the cost by the factor 10, as Coulot confirms: ” People and politics tend to forget that solar energy is a relatively new field, as it is in mass production for only a decade. It improved and grew extremely fast over the last years, and is becoming more and more competitive. It is therefore very important to look at the latest developments, especially the costs.”

Meet Insolight at this year’s SEIF congress

The environmental changes we face today and especially will face in the next 50 years should not only be seen as problems; in fact, they offer great opportunities for innovative business ideas. Both startups and investors have identified the potential that lies in the field of social entrepreneurship. The Social Entrepreneurship Impact & Finance conference therefore acts as a platform for the exchange of knowhow and best practices between entrepreneurs, investors and corporates engaged in this field. It seeks to provide attendees with inspiring insights and business models from the impact investing sector and gives the opportunity to learn from each other through exchanging ideas and experience. Insolight and Swisscom will both be present at the event.