10 Innovators to Watch in 1999
crystalline silicon and all the thin films. Barnett concluded that manufacturers needed the performance and stability of crystalline silicon and the low cost potential of thin films. Thin silicon was the answer.
He proposed the problem to Arco Solar, but was told that while thin silicon was indeed the way to go, he wasn't the person to solve the difficulty of manufacturing it.
"I'm a trained engineer," he says. "It was like, whoa! That was a challenge."
Arco's rejection led him to pioneer the development and manufacturing of thin, crystalline silicon solar cells on low-cost substrates.
Over the ensuing years, Barnett would raise $9 million from private investors, venture capitalists and a company called Astrosystems. Between government contracts and other equity, AstroPower became a going concern. It has grown to 280 employees and for its first six months as a public company, its profits nudged $520,000.
The silicon-film process makes solar cell wafers by growing a thin layer of silicon from a liquid bath. Usually, the wafers are made by sawing slices from a silicon ingot. AstroPower's cells cost less per watt, but have a slightly lower energy conversion efficiency than competing technologies.
AstroPower, Barnett admits, couldn't have succeeded without the largesse of the federal government. Its latest cost-shared contracts were inked Sept. 10. The contracts, partially funded with $5.2 million from the Department of Energy, will power further development of advanced Silicon-FilmTM solar cell products.
Barnett says his company hasn't had an impact on the PV market ¼ yet.
"The market is going to be 150 megawatts this year and we're going to be about 5 percent of the market share." About 85 percent of the company's sales are international.
AstroPower is competing against such giants as Siemens Solar Industries and Solarex.
There is residential demand for solar technology, but the problem is making a product at the right cost and one that's user friendly, the CEO says. To that end, last year the company partnered with GPU International Inc. to form GPU Solar. It hopes to sell to the residential market PV systems ranging from 1 to 4 kW.
Barnett insists, in the year of AstroPower's 15th anniversary, that everything at the company could be done better. He's driving the company as hard as he did back in the 1980s, when he was told he wasn't the man for the job. "I don't know whether we've achieved success yet, but we have a nice business," he says.
Edward G. Cazalet, CEO, Automated Power Exchange Inc.
Edward G. Cazalet can get angry when he talks about the California Power Exchange, the $100 million state-funded nemesis of his small Silicon Valley startup.
And why not? His David to California' s Goliath of power exchanges resulted when state officials rejected his plans for an independent, competitive electric power trading system. If your best shot at the $23 billion California electric power business fizzled because regulators chose another route, you'd get mad, too.
But Cazalet hasn't stopped trying to win his share of the competitive electric business. At last check, he was trying to