Scott Wharton is the CEO of Tandem PV, a startup commercializing perovskite solar technology. 

What are perovskites? 

Perovskites are a class of crystalline materials that have generated tremendous excitement in the field of solar technology. These materials are much better conductors than silicon, the current industry standard, being 200 times thinner yet able to conduct energy far more efficiently. In fact, perovskites are 100 times thinner than the width of a human hair, requiring significantly less material for solar panel production.

One of the key advantages of perovskites is that they can be synthetically produced in a factory, eliminating the need for mining or reliance on rare earth minerals and metals. The perovskite is essentially a crystalline structure that can be found abundantly in nature, making up 93% of the Earth’s core 400 miles below the surface. However, researchers are able to create new kinds of perovskite structures by swapping out different elements in the lab, tailoring their properties as desired.

The process involves creating a liquid “perovskite ink” by combining various elements, applying it to glass, and then heating it to crystallize the perovskite structure. This synthetic production method allows for the creation of a “miracle material” without the need for mining or resource extraction.

Perovskites offer a promising solution to meet the growing demand for clean energy as the world recognizes the urgent need to transition to net-zero emissions. If you look at the AI revolution, what do you think is going to power all those NVIDIA chips? They’re going to need a lot of energy. With solar panels currently being the cheapest energy source on the planet, the anticipated surge in energy demand necessitates a substantial increase in clean energy production. What we’re doing with perovskites is at the core of solving climate change.

Perovskites, with their potential for cost-effectiveness and scalability, could play a pivotal role in driving this transition more rapidly.

Currently, perovskite-based solar panels are already cost-competitive with silicon-based panels, and as production scales up, they are projected to become two to three times cheaper than their silicon counterparts. This cost advantage, combined with their superior performance and minimal material requirements, positions perovskites at the core of solving climate change by providing affordable and abundant clean energy.

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What is Tandem PV’s business model and how do you differentiate yourself from other solar technology?

We are focused on utility-scale solar deployments and selling our innovative tandem solar panels to solar farms, rather than building a consumer brand for direct sales to end users. Our panels offer a significant advantage over traditional silicon panels, with 25% more energy output for the same panel size and an impressive 26% efficiency compared to around 21% for current U.S. panels. However, we have the potential to achieve even higher efficiencies of up to 30% in the future.

The key to our superior performance lies in our tandem panel design, which combines a perovskite solar panel layer on top of a silicon panel layer. This unique approach allows our panels to capture different parts of the light spectrum more effectively. The perovskite layer is incredibly thin, operating at the nanometer scale. It is semi-transparent, allowing it to capture the majority of the light while permitting 40% of the light to pass through and be captured by the underlying silicon layer. This tandem design not only results in much higher efficiency rates than standalone panels, but it also enables us to leverage the 50 years of innovation in silicon technology. By integrating our advanced perovskite layer on top of a silicon base, we can maximize the performance of our panels while benefiting from the maturity of silicon technology.

Additionally, as silicon prices decrease, it actually benefits our product, since silicon is one of our major inputs. This means that our panels can become even more cost-effective as silicon prices drop, further strengthening our value proposition. 

While Tandem PV is a technology provider focused on developing and manufacturing these cutting-edge tandem solar panels, we do not offer installation services ourselves. Instead, we plan to partner with companies that specialize in utility-scale deployments and residential rooftop installations, leveraging their expertise in those areas. Overall, our innovative approach, combining perovskite and silicon technologies, positions Tandem PV as a promising solution for utility-scale solar farms seeking higher-efficiency, more cost-effective panels that can drive the transition to renewable energy and address climate change.

What is the status quo for solving this challenge and why is it inadequate? 

If you look at solar over the last 15 years, there have been a lot of small, incremental changes. If you go to a solar trade show, everyone basically has the same product and technology. When you think about it like that, the lowest-cost provider is going to be most successful.

Even if solar panel costs continue to go down, land and labor costs will only go up. I think our value proposition is great especially for places where there are high land and labor costs, since land and labor are more expensive than the panels themselves. We have an advantage as our value proposition will get stronger and stronger over time.

What are your plans to scale up your technology? 

We have a clear roadmap to ramp up production and drive significant impact. The next phase is raising funds to construct a pilot manufacturing plant – a smaller-scale production line for our tandem panels. While small in size, operating this pilot facility will produce up to $100 million annually in revenue. This is just a stepping stone though, as our ultimate goal is to build a full-scale gigawatt plant, which would bring in over $1 billion in revenue.

Our current fundraising efforts are focused on manufacturing plans and construction of the pilot plant. However, the pilot is merely the first step towards massively scaling up production capacity. To truly make a dent in addressing climate change through our technology, we need to achieve gigawatt-scale output. That’s the level of impact we’re aiming for with larger plants down the line.

To get there, we’ve diversified our funding sources – benefiting from 16 government grants so far as non-dilutive capital, along with investments from climate venture funds, angel investors, and strategic partners. We’ll continue this approach to funding our vision, as this is a quintessential high-risk, high-reward venture opportunity. If we successfully execute our plans, Tandem PV could become a multi-billion-dollar solar company. That’s the kind of transformative potential that gets VCs excited. I’m confident in our positioning and the team’s ability to deliver on this goal.

What is the future of Tandem PV?

The future of Tandem PV is something I’m deeply invested in. One of the main reasons I wanted to get involved with this company is because I see a need for faster progress in transitioning to net-zero emissions. I’m confident that solar, wind, and batteries will eventually become the go-to energy sources, but they might not be happening quickly enough.

When you look at it from a global perspective, the renewables we have now might only be enough to replace what we’re already using. But we’re going to need a lot more energy, especially with emerging tech like AI data centers on the rise. They’re projected to demand way more power than they currently do, and we can’t rely on coal or natural gas to meet that demand.

Not everyone in the world has the same access to energy that I do living in California. I believe it’s on us to create a world where everyone can live comfortably without messing up the planet. And the only way we’re going to get there is through some serious innovation. If we can make solar energy two or three times cheaper, we’ll be a huge step closer to that goal.

There’s also a moral side to this. I don’t think just telling people what to do is the answer. Most people are going to do what’s best for them, so I’m more focused on giving them a better option. Tandem PV is all about providing that better choice. As we move towards using more electricity in the future, Tandem PV is going to be right in the middle of making that transition happen.