Gonen Fink, CEO and co-founder of Pythagoras Solar aims to combine existing solar technologies with innovations in optics, semiconductor and mass manufacturing processes.
Global warming, and rapid industrialization coupled with dwindling finite reservoirs of fossil fuel, are behind a worldwide drive to develop renewable energy sources. Harnessing the sun – direct conversion of sunlight to electricity using photovoltaic panels – is one path.
Pythagoras Solar, an Israel solar energy start-up with R&D facilities in Tel Aviv and an office in San Mateo, California, has just mobilized $10 million in venture capital to take forward its concept of a stationary photovoltaic (PV) solar panel that is designed “to change some of the ‘basic principles’ behind PV technology today” according to its developers.
No idle boast, but Pythagoras Solar’s team have an impressive track record for successfully thinking out of the box: The CEO and co-founder Gonen Fink served for 12 years as vice-president of R&D, then vice-president of Solutions & Strategy at Check Point – the Israeli Internet security company that invented the firewall, and is a graduate of one of the IDF’s elite intelligence technology units.
While most entrepreneurial spirits follow their engineering studies with a graduate degree in business administration, Fink holds a B.Sc in physics and computer science, and an M.A. from Tel Aviv University in philosophy.
Pythagoras’ CTO – Dr. Itay Baruchi is a physicist whose work on biological memory – a key to eventually producing neuro-memory chips – was cited by Scientific American as one of the 50 most significant scientific breakthroughs in 2007.
Presently, only one percent of world energy is produced by harnessing the sun, due to the high cost of such systems. One major bottleneck is reducing the cost of pure silicon wafers that constitute 70 percent of the cost of such systems and impede competition with fossil fuels.
One must either develop ways to mass produce pure silicon, or reduce the amount of silicon needed per watt of power.
Some leading-edge companies are concentrating on developing entirely new breakthrough technologies – for example, thin silicon films to replace ‘traditional’ crystalline silicon technology used in manufacturing 95 percent of photoelectric cells today. But thin films have yet to be mass-produced.
In contrast, Pythagoras-Solar has embarked on a different path – an interdisciplinary breakthrough configuration – combing existing technologies, rather than an entirely new breakthrough technology.
“Our approach is based on proven technology and existing form factors more than some of the new systems, but we use innovation in optics, semiconductor and mass manufacturing processes to significantly reduce the cost of materials being consumed,” Fink tells ISRAEL21c.
Another impediment to mass use of solar energy hinges on finding a way to concentrate sunlight on solar panels without moving parts that now align the panels with the sun.
Here Pythagoras’ unique optics come into play. Today, only specialized solar energy plants can handle the maintenance such mechanical tracking systems require. The key to expanding the electric grid beyond central power generating systems, to rooftop systems or future structures clad in photovoltaic panels hinges on reliability.
Pythagoras-Solar is developing static solar panels based on low concentration geometry that can help open the way for mobilizing individual buildings as part of the electricity grid, because they will be maintenance free.
Pythagoras-Solar’s product is scheduled to be unveiled in 2009.