In these economic times, many companies have seen dips in sales. That hasn’t been the case for Norcross-based Suniva, a manufacturer of high-efficiency silicon solar cells and modules. The company is sold-out several months in advance and is experiencing significant demand for its products both nationally and abroad.
“Last year, Suniva exported more than 90 percent of its product to Asia and Europe,” said Bryan Ashley, Suniva’s chief marketing officer. “In fact, Suniva outsources none of its production [and] is the only U.S. manufacturer of high-efficiency silicon solar cells that uses U.S. technology and U.S. production.”
Domestic production allows Suniva to employ a diverse American workforce—approximately a quarter of employees are military veterans and many others were hired from shuttered automotive plants.
The company’s high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules convert solar energy to useable direct current electricity. Suniva claims to have a low-cost method for creating solar cells that will make their solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels. That led to a No. 2 ranking in the Wall Street Journal’s Top Ten Venture-Backed Clean Technology Companies two years in a row.
“[Suniva’s] solar cells and modules create electricity directly from sunlight,” said Ashley. “The company’s mission is to make its products the sensible choice for creating clean, earth-friendly power generation.”
The sun emits power and once it reaches Earth in the form of sunlight, that power can be captured to create usable energy. Suniva produces a solar cell that can convert 18 percent of the energy from the captured sunlight into solar power at a competitive price point. These 18 percent efficient cells are currently on the market, with 20 percent efficient cells are currently in production.
While the solar cells that Suniva creates are high-efficiency compared to many competitors, they are not the most efficient on the market, nor are they the least expensive. But the balance of low cost and efficiency has allowed Suniva to create a quality product in high demand.
The company was founded in 2007 by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi. Rohatgi founded Georgia Tech’s photovoltaic (PV) research program in 1985. He is author of more than 375 technical papers – and he has created 15 world record cells. Suniva’s connection to Georgia Tech’s program has also allowed for exclusive rights to certain intellectual property and patents.
“The company’s technology and patents represent nearly two decades of silicon photovoltaic (PV) experience, exclusively licensed from Georgia Tech’s Center of Excellence in Photovoltaics (UCEP), led by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi,” said Ashley.
After being approached by investors to form Suniva, Rohatgi founded the company which then raised over $130 million in start-up capital. Suniva now has a global customer base that includes India’s Titan Energy Systems, Germany-based Solon and Alpharetta-based United Renewable Energy.
Suniva solar cells have been used in projects such as The Plastiki Expedition, a boat made of recyclables that sailed across the Pacific Ocean in an effort to raise awareness on environmental issues. The boat was composed of approximately 12,500 reclaimed plastic soda bottles, and solar cells allowed the Plastiki boat to generate enough electricity to power navigation and communication systems.
Suniva solar cells were also used in the 2010 Shell Eco-Marathon Europe, a fuel-efficient car competition. In this competition, high school and college teams collaborate to build and test energy-efficient vehicles – the team that goes the furthest distance using the least amount of energy wins.
While Suniva is world-renowned, Ashley said the company – which employs just under 200 at its local headquarters – is pleased to call Norcross and Georgia’s Innovation Crescent home. “The company chose Norcross because of its proximity to Georgia Tech as well as the incentives offered by Gwinnett County’s economic development office.”