Today crystalline silicon-based panels (the first photovoltaic generation) account for 80% of the solar photovoltaic market. Second generation thin film panels have a key asset: as they are lighter, thinner and more flexible, they can be laid on curved surfaces and on mobile components such as trains or buses. Some are CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) based panels, some are CIS (Copper Indium Selenide) and others are CdTe (Cadmium Telluride) based panels. Carbon based organic solar cells printed on a plastic base (the third generation, which have sizable advantages) are now emerging. DisaSolar, a small business with a staff of fifteen, markets and instals first and second generation panels but also develops third generation solar panels with a view to becoming the leader on the market of flexible solar panels manufactured by inkjet printing.
Stéphane Poughon, DisaSolar Founder and CEO Crédits : Disasolar
Admittedly, it is a huge challenge, however, Stéphane Poughon, DisaSolar Founder and CEO, knows the score. Not only was he an HEC graduate, but a science major and a high-level sailing athlete, a tough field par excellence with neverending challenges. After navigating the seas of different large industrial groups, he set sail on his own, first by building yachts in China, combining Western know-how with local subcontracting, then by founding DisaSolar, a small business, five years ago. "When you have the soul of an entrepreneur, you tend to bank on forward-looking, growing markets. In 2012, the photovoltaic market enjoyed a 40% growth and this is just the beginning. This explains our choice of investing and innovating in this field that I knew nothing about when I became interested in it," he explained, convinced that in the short term electricity will be needed everywhere. "This means being able to offer customized solar power," he exclaimed. Are they niche markets? Of course, but taken together they account for billions of euros and provide a sizable source of jobs.
Today DisaSolar, which as earned quite a reputation, has two core skills. One is to sell, or even adapt and customize extant products to satisfy its customers. As part of this more traditional business, the Limoges based small business has equipped trains, buses, urban furniture and military vehicles. Solar panels can operate the air conditioning on a bus so the engine does not have to run, resulting in lower pollutant emissions and greenhouse gases. For the past three years, Stéphane Poughon has been tackling third generation solar power. "Our ambition is to become the reference company for the manufacture of inkjet OPV (Organic PhotoVoltaic) models," said Stéphane Poughon. Their ambition is rooted in firm ground, as the main Disa Solar shareholder is the Disa-Megamark Group that has unique skills and expertise in printing, deploying and laying flexible films.
OPV Cell Crédits : CEA/P. Avavian
For the venture, DisaSolar has also received support from the Limousin Region and OSEO, which has awarded it 'innovative business' certification, and from the French Weapons Procurement Agency (DGA), which has signed a R&D contract for the development of mimetic solar panels. "Our research is organized around different French (i.e. CEA, CNRS, INES) and European public research laboratories," he explained. As a result, the Limoges based small business can now engineer 30cm x 30cm modules that work, on a small scale. "Now, we have to industrialize the process so we can engineer customized modules, in terms of size, shape, electric properties, voltage and colors. We have to be able to do 3D." This explains why they have initiated a 7 million-euro project that will be setting up a pilot, operational manufacturing line by 2016. The line will be producing 25,000 square meters of modules and should create 25 jobs over three years. The challenge is turn inkjet printing (as it is now used) into a process that can manufacture electronic components. "We've been working on this for six months, jointly with different partners. Recently we have managed to export machines developed in US and German universities," reported Stéphane Poughon who, like a seasoned navigator, is following the chartered course.