Would more homeowners put solar panels on their homes if they didn’t look so ugly?
What if a company’s logo could not only shine on a commercial property but also supply it with solar energy?
What if street furniture could be lit by solar panels that feature designs by local artists?
A startup company in the New York University Tandon School of Engineering clean-tech incubator called NYC ACRE asked those questions and—buoyed by customer enthusiasm—launched a design and technology race to build the first beautiful solar panels—something it hopes will speed the adoption of renewable energy. In the latest step toward reality, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will help take Sistine Solar’s technology the last mile, to production, by means of a $1 million grant.
The grant is part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade. It will allow Sistine Solar to test, certify, and commercialize its patent-pending SolarSkin, which is a customizable, graphic layer within a solar panel. This graphic layer can display any image, design or pattern—for example, a pattern of a red Spanish tile roof—thereby transforming a traditional solar installation from one that is strictly functional to one that embraces aesthetics.
“We strongly believe in the transformative power of design,” said Ido Salama, Sistine Solar co-founder and head of sales. “The moment we admit that design matters is the moment that clean energy can go from producing 1 percent of our energy needs to 100 percent in our lifetime. And the proof is there: When we showed our SolarSkin to homeowners in person, 98 percent of them—including many who refused solar in the past— preferred it over a traditional panel.”
“We are delighted to congratulate Sistine Solar and proud that the NYC ACRE incubator has been able to help as it creatively expands the market potential of solar,” said Pat Sapinsley, NYU Tandon managing director of Cleantech Initiatives. “Growing the solar sector is an important step toward building a more responsible energy sector and building a green economy.”
To qualify for a DOE SunShot award, promising technologies such as SolarSkin are vetted through a rigorous process that includes review by solar industry experts, DOE officials, and venture capitalists. Only those with the strongest promise of commercial success receive an award.
“While other NYC ACRE companies have earned Department of Energy grants, no award has been nearly as large—an indication of the potential impact of Sistine Solar on the renewable-energy field,” said Kurt Becker, NYU Tandon vice dean for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. “We heartily congratulate Sistine Solar and take pride in the roles that NYC ACRE and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) have played in nurturing its success.”
NYSERDA has supported the NYC ACRE business incubator since it was founded in 2009. NYSERDA also administers NY-Sun, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s $1 billion initiative to advance the scale-up of solar power and move New York State closer to having a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry. The growth of solar in the State has increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, twice the rate of U.S. solar growth overall.
“Solar power and business development are both vital to Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system in New York State,” said John B. Rhodes, NYSERDA president and CEO. “The Department of Energy’s recognition of Sistine Solar’s achievements illustrates the benefits of our incubator program as well as the growth of solar power in the state. NYSERDA congratulates Sistine Solar on its continued success.”
NYC ACRE, New York City’s premier renewable technology incubator, offers a suite of services to the companies housed at the NYU Tandon Urban Future Lab in Downtown Brooklyn. It assigns mentors and introduces entrepreneurs to customers including channel-to-market partners, as well as to early-stage funders including venture capitalists. It hosts regular meetings with investment advisors, lawyers, accountants, sales experts, communications experts, and graphic designers. Through affiliations with international entrepreneurial programs and domestic incubators, it widens the potential customer base for incubating companies. Sistine Solar, for example, conducted its prototyping at Greentown Labs, near Boston, one of a network of incubators loosely affiliated with NYC ACRE.
NYC ACRE is home to 15 startup companies, and another 16 have graduated to larger facilities or been acquired. Together, these 31 companies have generated more than $20 million in revenue, employed more than 180 people, and raised more than $69 million in private capital. For more information on the NYU Tandon incubators, visit http://engineering.nyu.edu/business/incubators.