Saule Technologies is a Polish company sparked by Olga Malinkiewicz’ innovative method to produce solar cells by coating perovskites on flexible foils, and one of the first companies in the world working on the commercialization of perovskite photovoltaic cells.
Saule Technologies made headlines after the world started to understand the impact that perovskites could have in the evolution of solar technology – how did the company start out and what are you working on currently?
Saule Technologies started in 2014 when Olga won the Photonics21 Student Innovation Award, in a competition organized by the European Commission, for inventing a novel technology for harnessing the power of the sun with the use of perovskite photovoltaic cells.
The company started out with a EUR 250,000 investment from us as co-founders, and we have been developing in a very agile manner ever since. We also received funds from the European Union and we found an angel investor - Japanese entrepreneur Hideo Sawada. We are currently holding another round to find international investors.
We currently have our administrative HQ in Warsaw and an R&D laboratory in Wroclaw, where we employ 35 scientists from 14 countries, all passionate about making a sustainable difference for the world’s incessantly growing energy demands.
How supportive have you found the Polish business climate for start-ups such as yourselves?
Countries in this part of the world emerged from communism 30 years ago. Since then the ecosystem has changed in leaps and bounds and we found there to be massive support for start-ups with the Polish government pumping billions of PLN to foster innovation.
This qualifies as seed investment, and then there is private equity for large scale investments, but there is little to no support for everything in between, which of course poses big challenges for medium size companies that are trying to grow. Venture capital in the meaning of investment between EUR 5-20 million in our part of the world is practically nonexistent.
Can you give us some examples of practical applications for the technology?
The three application areas we are focusing on at present are IoTs (internet of things), construction, and windows. As an example in the IoT field, they can be used to charge electronic price stags in supermarkets. Likewise with the advent of 5G technology people are always looking for autonomous charging methods, and perovskites are a perfect fit, and an alternative to the amorphous silicon used currently.
We even have a collaboration with a Japanese company for space applications, where weight is crucial. To put in numbers, silicon panels weigh roughly 20-25 kg per m2 as opposed to persovskites’ 1.5-3 kg burden, making the latter an ideal candidate for what now are enormous unused warehouse roofs all around the world. In addition they are ultra-thin, flexible, low cost, versatile and also perform under low light conditions, even artificial or disperse light.
How cost effective you expect your modules to be?
The production method is inkjet printing, a simplified process which allows us to become very cost competitive. Initially we will have the same prices as regular solar panels, which is about 3.5 Eurocents/kwh, but according to our calculations we expect to be able to bring the costs lower in time to approximately 2 Eurocents/kwh.
For developing a new technology you have been moving at an impressive pace, though the industry must be keen to have access to the technology. When do you expect wide scale commercialization to happen?
Indeed so far we have dedicated our efforts to research and development to perfect the product and get it ready to market. In the second half of 2020 we want to introduce the first modules to our JDA (joint development agreement) business partners.
With Skanska we have been developing building façade modules integrated with perovskite technology, which allows even busy city centers to take advantage of solar technology by no longer relying solely on limiting rooftops.
Likewise, with Ergis we have been working on a barrier foil to prevent moisture and oxygen from entering into our modules, and we are in talks for several novel projects with B2B end users. The first production lines are being installed in early 2020, they will be limited capacity and meant for our partners first. Following this in 2021 we want to increase capacity fivefold, and in 2022 we will be ready to install a full-scale production line.
So much to look forward to, what is your vision for Saule for the short and medium term future?
This year we look forward to having the prototypes ready and test them with our partners to evaluate exactly how they perform in real life circumstances and implement any potential improvements. We expect that plenty of custom IoT applications will be already made battery-free by our perovskite modules in the second half of this year – this is the field where we envision massive opportunities given global needs.
Let us not forget that in these times there is an exceptional need to protect our planet by using renewable energy sources and simply more efficient ways to generate energy. Our solutions are an ideal method for businesses looking to become carbon neutral or at least reduce their footprint in a cost-effective manner.
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