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Greenhouses emerging as opportunity for SunScience

John Seelmeyer

Founders of SunScience Corp. thought they’d developed a terrific green-power technology for use by the military and disaster-relief agencies.

But the technology appears to be gaining traction first in a dramatically different industry as SunScience prepares its first commercial installation at Lovelock-area greenhouses.

The privately held company founded in Reno two years ago projects 2011 revenues just under $1 million and projects that it will become profitable on a five-fold increase of sales next year.

It’s raised capital through private sales of equity.

Like many of the plants that are growing in the Lovelock greenhouses that will use its technology, the SunScience system is a hybrid.

Its solar array combines photovoltaic technology, which converts sunlight into electricity, with a solar thermal system to capture the sun’s heat.

In a greenhouse, the photovoltaic system will meet the needs for electricity while the solar thermal system will provide space heating.

The combination is powerful, says Greg Howard, vice president of production. The company estimates its hybrid technology produces 70 watts of energy both electric and thermal per square foot. This compares with 11 watts a square foot for traditional solar panels.

“We can make a lot of energy in a small space,” says Howard.

For disaster-relief or military applications, SunScience integrates data communications, battery storage and water purification units.

Packaged together onto a trailer, the SunScience Mobile Municipal System can provide portable infrastructure for communities hit by disaster, remote communities distant from traditional municipal infrastructure or military units, says Richard Kelsey, the company’s chief executive officer.

Along with the technology developed by Silicon Valley veteran James Parker, the company’s chief technology officer, a key element in the company’s plan is its manufacturing partnership with Tripp Enterprises in Sparks.

SunScience is building its first units in a corner of the sprawling Tripp Enterprises manufacturing complex on Greg Street, and Tripp Enterprises President Warren Tripp serves on the young company’s board.

The relationship with Tripp Enterprises allows the company to begin manufacturing on a shoestring, Kelsey says, and it allows the SunScience staff to simply walk a few steps to visit with the Tripp manufacturing team to work through problems they might encounter.

The company has filed one patent application and four provisional patents with the U.S. Patent Office.

While the potential greenhouse markets for the SunScience technology are in a well-defined niche, Kelsey says the company faces larger challenges marketing its Mobile Municipal System.

SunScience targets governments in developing nations, but Kelsey notes that each government has its own process for purchase of gear such as the Mobile Municipal System.

In many instances, he says, the key is to develop relationships with the right set of partners. Sunscience now is identifying the key partners in each of its potential markets, he says.