Morgan Solar makes solar more affordable and attainable with innovative tech

John Paul Morgan wants to make solar energy the most ubiquitous and inexpensive form of energy in the world. It's that vision that drove him to launch his company, Morgan Solar, back in 2007 with his brother Nicolas. And it's that vision that still drives the Toronto-based company today.

SPOTlight modules

"We were concerned that solar energy was too costly and not being adopted fast enough," recalls Morgan, the company's president and CTO. "We wanted to do something about that."

What did they do? Morgan Solar has developed three innovative, market-disruptive products — SimbaX, a low concentrating technology for utility solar panels; SPOTlight, a translucent building integrated photovoltaic technology; and the Savanna Tracker, a foundationless tracking system — to make solar technology more efficient and attainable for users across the globe.

A low concentrating technology

One way Morgan Solar is making solar power more affordable, without subsidies, is by reducing the amount of silicon cells that go into the panels.

"We were looking for a way to change the materials that go into a solar panel, recognizing that the cost of those materials was a hard barrier that solar energy couldn't necessarily get past," explains Morgan.

He decided to look at different materials commonly used in the automotive and construction industries, which had proven reliability in harsh conditions and against ultraviolet light. The goal was to see if these materials could be used in place of the expensive silicon cells used in solar panels.

The result: SimbaX, a silicon reduction technology for standard solar panels, which uses one-third the quantity of cells that go into typical solar panels. This dramatically reduces the bill of materials, which reduces costs. SimbaX uses Morgan Solar's Simple Planar Optical Technology (SPOT) in an ultra-thin film made from simple commodity components that internally trap and redirects sunlight to convert it to electricity. The structures are thin, highly durable, versatile and very cost effective.

The best use of light in building applications

The company's SPOTlight is its newest innovation, and is targeted at customers that want to visibly improve their energy sustainability. Still in the early adoption phase, SPOTlight uses that same optical technology to make the best use of various forms of light in building applications (i.e., windows, skylights, etc.). SPOTlight modules are translucent, so they enable daylight to come into the building; however, they are also designed to block direct light from the sun and generate energy that is equal to or greater than what a standard technology would achieve. In addition, programmable colour LEDs can be easily integrated to turn the panels into a light source and digital display.

The advantages of this technology include the ability to capture thermal energy that can be used to heat or cool the interior space, improvement in workplace productivity (because of the natural light that is let in) and electricity savings.

SPOTlight translucent building integrated photovoltaic technology

A foundationless tracking system

The company's third technology, the Savanna Tracker, is a new approach to dual-axis tracking. Savanna features a human-height, drop-in-place frame that can be set up and serviced manually using simple hand tools. It doesn't require any foundation poured to install, eliminating many of the civil works and construction costs of solar installation that prohibit its use in places like Africa, rural India, and northern and indigenous communities in Canada, where infrastructure is challenging.

"You can't get large cranes, diggers and concrete trucks to some of these sites," Morgan says. "We wanted to have a technology where you didn't have these critical infrastructure needs, because we weren't only trying to address the challenges of solar energy in California, Arizona or Ontario. We wanted to be able to address it anywhere that energy is needed."

This highly modular tracker follows both the sun's daily east-west path, and seasonal changes in its elevation, increasing yields by as much as 40 per cent, with even greater boosts at more northern latitudes.

The secret to success

These innovative technologies are now installed throughout Canada, the U.S., Japan, India, Pakistan and Europe, with more installations on the horizon, bringing the company's vision to life: a more affordable and attainable solar technology. But it has taken more than innovation to get where they are today. It's required a steady focus, the ability to adapt when the market changed — solar panels now cost less than a tenth of what they cost when the company was launched — and being open to working with partners.

Late last year, Morgan Solar announced a partnership with Silfab to develop and mass produce its disruptive PV module, SimbaX, at the company's plant in Mississauga, and that's just the beginning. The "partnership-driven organization" expects to be announcing additional joint ventures later this year.

Calling Ontario home

What started out as a mission to make solar the most ubiquitous and inexpensive form of energy in the world, has turned into an Ontario success story. But it's interesting to note that neither John Paul nor Nicolas Morgan grew up in the province. The brothers were raised in Vancouver, and were actually living in Chile and Spain when they decided to launch Morgan Solar, yet they chose Ontario as the company's home.

"I knew that we would need highly qualified engineers. I knew that we'd need really well-trained, smart people, and I knew that there were the right kinds of industries here (in automation and manufacturing) to bring in the experienced people we'd need," Morgan says, adding that the province's "phenomenal universities" were also a factor.

"The caliber of the educated people here is one of the biggest draws," he explains. "Ontario is a province of hard working, smart people, and that's an incredible asset to have when you're trying to build a business."

Multiculturalism is also an asset, says Morgan.

"I think that diversity is a big strength. It's something that really helps companies from Ontario succeed internationally."

And Morgan Solar is proud to be a company that is competing — and succeeding — in the international market with its innovative technologies. Their commitment? To work hard to make solar technology affordable and accessible to users across the globe – an idea we can all warm up to.

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April 11, 2018

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