As solar cell tests continue, company lines up first users |

As solar cell tests continue, company lines up first users

Pat Patera

Snowpeak Energy Inc. is nearing a milepost in its battle to bring to market a solar cell one-tenth the size of existing solar-cell products with 10 times the power.

Working from suites at Airport Gardens in Reno, Chief Executive Officer Dick Kelsey and James Parker, the company’s chief science officer, test models both in the lab and in the sun on the building’s roof.

They’re experimenting with a lens array, solar cells tilted an angles to more efficiently capture the sun’s energy.

They expect to have a prototype of their Suncatcher in another two months, says Kelsey. The selling point: “Amortized over 10 years, we’ll be less expensive than the power company.”

Parker, who holds a doctorate in computing science, acknowledges the math is difficult, and the product hasn’t made it out of the lab.

Even so, Kelsey mans the sales front. Northern Nevada builders are coming on as partners, he says, and he’s talking with the developer of a planned community.

He is working with Frank Terrasas at Gen Seven Development and Construction, for instance, to develop a network of connected sensors that would track a home’s power use.

“Each house would monitor its power how much power is in water heating and auto recharge systems and how much is left,” says Kelsey. Homeowners could monitor the situation on an iPod.

By next year, he expects to have two commercial buildings and 217 houses sporting Snowpeak solar technology.

Kelsey also envisions self-sustaining communities, schools, vehicle-recharge roofs, even self-sustaining shelter units that can be erected on site after a natural disaster.

The company has been self-funded, but soon will seek angel investors. And its executives want to partner with battery companies and network with local companies in all fields as far afield as land investments.

Tripp Plastics in Sparks has helped Parker and Kelsey develop the lens technology.

As plans gel, Snowpeak will ramp up its employment, says Kelsey. But he takes a conservative view toward in-house hiring maybe 20 or 30 tops as he looks to partnerships, not employees, to carry the company forward.

But Kelsey has no plans to outsource manufacturing to offshore suppliers.

Kelsey isn’t looking over his shoulder at competitors. There’s plenty of market for everyone in the solar arena, he adds: 100 million homes in the U.S. and nearly 5 million office buildings.

“Because solar is a new field, there is no IBM in this industry. This is like the 1920s of the automobile business.”

Still, he admits, after two years spent in product development, he sometimes wonders, “Are we on the right path? It’s not the only way to do it.”