The Claremont-Pomona Locally Grown Power panel factory is the brainchild of Executive Director Devon Hartman — an architect, general contractor and energy efficiency adviser — and Kent Kernahan, a solar photovoltaic panel industry veteran and inventor who in 2015 received a U.S. patent for a new technology to produce solar panels.
The new technology involves sensors and controls on the silicon chips that comprise each solar panel’s photovoltaic cells, which detect cells that are shaded or damaged from heating up and causing permanent damage to a panel. Those cells are known as hot spots.
According to Richard Haskell, a retired physics professor at Claremont’s Harvey Mudd College who helped test Kernahan’s technology, prevention of hot spots allows the cell to operate at full electricity production — and it also simplifies manufacturing. Cells that have slight deformities can be used in panel assembly.
“In conventional solar panels, only the absolutely purest cells with no deformities can be used,” Haskell said. “This technology allows cells that would otherwise be discarded to be used.”
For Hartman and Claremont-Pomona LGP, this opens a cheaper way to make solar panels, by using discarded cells from large-scale panel manufacturers. And since the panels are made locally to be installed on rooftops within 20 miles of the factory, there are no expensive shipping costs.
“Our goal is to produce solar panels for one-third less than panels coming in from China when shipping costs are factored in,” Hartman said.
The new panel technology has been tested for about 18 months at Harvey Mudd under Haskell’s supervision. While the technology has passed all the lab tests, Haskell conceded that the panels haven’t been tested for durability over the long term.
LGP will also face the challenge of scaling up production from the current prototype stage to its goal of making at least 4,000 panels a month.
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