Monday, June 30, 2008

MIT startup RawSolar heading to Cali


Now that the U.S. has frozen the building of new solar projects on public land, interest in smaller solar systems that can be more easily built on private lands could see a boost. One such system comes from a young startup incubated at MIT called RawSolar. Earlier this month the company said its solar-concentrating dish prototype had passed some initial tests; this week the company said it’s moving to Berkeley, Calif., to start on its commercialization business plan.

RawSolar claims its dish technology could be the most cost-efficient solar system in the world because it will use simple, standard materials and components, which can be ordered from local distributors anywhere in the U.S. The company’s manufacturing processes are simple enough to be accomplished at any functional machine shop, according to RawSolar co-founder Matt Ritter (pictured in the shots below), who says he helped build the MIT prototype with a standard drill press.

Solar inventor Doug Wood created the original technology in his backyard in Washington State. Ritter says that, “Like for the Model T, this standardization of parts, and elimination of the bottlenecks that form around exotic materials or high-powered precision machining, gives the conventional-looking design truly revolutionary potential.” RawSolar is in the process of buying the patent for the technology from Wood.

Each dish itself has a 10 kW capacity, which is tiny in the solar thermal world, but the company could jack that up by stringing the dishes together. The dish design can concentrate sunlight 1,000 times to produce steam that can be used to either heat buildings or be applied in different manufacturing processes.

While many solar thermal startups use the steam that is generated by solar systems to produce electricity, RawSolar, for now, thinks there is a big enough market to focus on selling steam power. Ritter says any company that uses natural gas (and oil heat) for thermal power is a potential customer, and RawSolar plans to sell its steam power in power purchase agreements for 10 percent less than the price of natural gas, before subsidies, at today’s prices.

And now RawSolar is moving to Berkeley. Ritter says that’s because the company believes more of its customers are going to on the other coast, in the sunny Southwest. There’s also a good crop of engineers in the area (the company is hiring). Two of the four founding team members were UC Berkeley undergrads.

Relocating could also give RawSolar easier access to Sand Hill Road, as Ritter tells us the company is looking to raise its first round of funding. The startup would use it to build its first pilot installation with a customer, hopefully by the end of the year, Ritter says.

Photos courtesy of RawSolar.

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