Competition Heats up in the Solar Energy Sector

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It’s expected that solar energy will eventually become the world’s largest contributor in the production of electricity. In the near term, a recent report by Global Market Insights states that the worldwide solar energy market was worth US $65 billion in 2015, and is likely to exceed $140 billion by 2023, with more than 600 GW of power installed during the forecast period. It’s little wonder therefore that this market has received huge amounts of attention from an innovation perspective.

As expected, this level of interest has also led to intensifying competition. In recent news, SolarCity, which has accepted a takeover offer from Elon Musk’s Tesla, stands accused of intellectual property theft by Cogenra Solar. This was reported in Fortune this week. The lawsuit was filed on Monday which, in Reuters words, accuses SolarCity of “gaining undue advantage of Cogenra's Shingling technology that helps in manufacturing high-efficiency commercially viable solar panels.”

Implementing the right intellectual property strategy will be significant in the future success of organizations fighting in this space. It is particularly important as manufacturers try to achieve a viable business model for a technology that is expensive to develop, but where focusing on the right technology results in extremely valuable intellectual property. For example, we examined the IP landscape within the nanotechnology market and focused on the most valuable patents within that area. What we found, was that IP relating to ‘solar cell’ and ‘thermoelectric conversion’ feature amongst the highest value patents, along with technologies such as ‘graphene’, ‘nanotubes’ and ‘batteries’.

Nanotechnology is ideally suited for the renewable energy sector. There is a body of research showing how the technology can be used to improve energy generation, transmission, storage and consumption. Additionally, solar cells based on nanotechnology appear to be much cheaper to produce and have demonstrated high levels of efficiency. It indicates why breakthroughs in this space are so highly prized - and appear among the highest valued patents within nanotechnology.

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One example, from researchers at Kennesaw State, involves developing third generation cells based on a nanomaterial, specifically an ultra-thin hybrid Perovskite noncrystalline film. This makes the cells flexible, so that not only are they cheaper and more efficient, but they could also be used for applications such as wearable electronics. In another development, researchers at Griffith University, Australia have discovered a mechanism that could lead to an ultra efficient coating that makes use of both visible and UV light.

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It will be interesting to see how these innovations from academic institutions impact developments in the commercial sector. However, there’s certainly a need for lots more research and there will undoubtedly be many more breakthroughs to come. These advancements will of course be critical if the world is to rely on solar power as its principle source by the time we reach 2050. We’ll certainly be keeping a careful eye on the emerging IP in this sector.