Made in LA: Spectrolab has Conquered the Heavens, Now Focusing on Planet Earth
Last week the CleanTech LA team took a trip to Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley to check in on local cleantech firm Spectrolab, the market leader in space-based solar energy products.
Spectrolab, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company, provides power to hundreds of satellite and interplanetary spacecraft. The company is also expanding into concentrating solar cells for the emerging renewable energy market. Spectrolab currently employs 450 people in research, design, manufacturing, and sales of its solar energy products, as well as solar simulators and airborne searchlight systems.
Spectrolab was established in 1956, when LA serial technology entrepreneur
Alfred Mann brought together a group of engineers to provide high-quality optical filters and mirrors for use in government contracts. Spectrolab established its credibility in the nascent space industry with Pioneer 1 in 1958 and the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 – the mission included the installation of the first solar panel on the moon. Since those early days, Spectrolab has become the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of space solar cells and panels.
As the manufacturer and primary solar cell and panel supplier to nearly all satellite contractors, Spectrolab products have powered more than 500 successful space missions, including the International Space Station, and numerous interplanetary missions to Mars and the first deep space mission to Jupiter, to U.S. military defense programs, and to cost-conscious commercial applications such as for broadcasting and telephony. Spectrolab is also applying this interplanetary expertise to a more local market: Planet Earth.
Spectrolab’s scientists build and test solar cells for terrestrial solar modules that use lenses or mirrors to concentrate the intensity of the sun’s rays up to 1,400 times onto a very small, highly efficient Spectrolab cell. These modules are assembled into systems by 3rd parties and installed in large scale arrays that track the sun’s movement across the sky. In 2009, Spectrolab set a new world record for terrestrial concentrator solar cell efficiency by converting 41.6 percent of concentrated sunlight into electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado independently verified this record setting performance.
U.S. terrestrial solar sales are on track to reach about one gigawatt this year, equivalent to the size of a nuclear reactor. As a global leader in space solar power, Spectrolab has the strong research team, the stability of existing contracts, and manufacturing capacity to succeed in the terrestrial solar market.
For the U.S. solar sector to achieve the cost efficiencies of fossil fuel power plants, it needs to develop solar power plants at scale using highly efficient solar cells. Companies like Spectrolab are putting Los Angeles in a leadership position in this cutting-edge field.