Toledo Solar receives DOE grant to research lighter, steel-backed solar modules


The country’s first residential thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar panel manufacturer, Toledo Solar, has been given a $200,000 Phase I federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the Department of Energy for the research and development of lighter solar panels.

Specifically, the company will be looking to develop modules with glass-enameled steel backs, rather than using a glass sheet to encapsulate the panel. Toledo Solar already had plans in the works to research glass-enameled, steel-backed modules in the future, the awarding of the SBIR grant just expedited the process.

The research is also not being done to determine whether glass-enameled, steel-backed module technology is a possibility, more so to test that technology against traditional modules to see how they compare in energy production and degradation/failure rates when exposed to the elements.

The idea is that not only will the glass-enameled, steel-backed modules be lighter than their traditional counterparts, making them easier to install, but the steel backing opens up different racking possibilities, rather than just using individual mounting clips. Durability, however, is the main concern of these potential modules, as steel has different heat expansion properties than glass and may also have difficulty standing up to more extreme weather conditions, including prolonged snow coverage.

If the development of these panels is successful, Toledo solar can then apply for a Phase II SBIR grant from DOE. This second grant would provide much more operating capital, coming in at $1.6 million over a two-year period. This second grant could help Toledo solar get closer to commercial-scale production of glass-enameled, steel-backed modules.

A new look for residential solar

It seems that, so far, Toledo Solar’s entire manufacturing philosophy has been to zig where all other manufacturers zag. Aaron Bates, chairman of The Atlas Venture Group, the group that owns Toledo Solar, said as much when the company began commercial operations.

“We recognize the void in the non-utility solar markets that have been underserved by silicon solar panels. Cad-Tel is clearly a better option. We are excited to lead this investment in Toledo and continue to push Cad-Tel solar technology forward.”

Toledo Solar is looking to establish the company as the premier (and only) residential CdTe panel manufacturer. It’s also looking to be the first company to commercialize a glass-enameled, steel-backed solar module.

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