John Paul Morgan speaks about the science of solar power like the expert that he is. But the founder of Toronto-based Morgan Solar is driven by far more than simply perfecting one of the most innovative solar technologies currently available. In his mind, it’s as much about making a difference in a world that desperately needs a new approach to clean energy.
Founded in 2007 with the goal of making unsubsidized solar energy competitive with traditional sources of generation, Morgan Solar has pioneered an entirely new approach to the design and manufacturing of solar modules and Balance of System (BOS) components. The result, it says, is market-disruptive products that will lead the industry in efficiency, durability and low cost.
It’s those last three attributes that Morgan believes hold such promise for his technology in regions where inexpensive solar energy technology that’s relatively easy to install, operate and maintain will make a big difference to the lives of local people.
“My motivation in establishing the company was to try to find a way to make electricity less expensive, specifically in the developing world,” explains Morgan. “I saw first hand the impact of energy poverty and lack of access to electricity and frankly, conventional sources and conventional renewables were too costly, so I endeavoured to create a new technology that would have a fundamentally different cost basis to try to disrupt the economics of renewable energy, but also of energy generally.”
Morgan’s first hand experience of energy needs in the developing world includes managing international aid projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it’s his background in technology that provided the foundation for a venture into solar power. His work before founding Morgan Solar included collaborating on the development of a space telescope with the Canadian Space Agency, and inventing and developing high-tech fibre optic technology solutions with telecommunications industry giant, JDS Uniphase.
As president and chief technology officer at Morgan Solar, his focus now is on demonstrating that solar power is no longer an “alternative” energy, rather, it’s the energy for the future.
And he believes that can be done by offering an attractive return on investment to all stakeholders – customers, partners, suppliers, employees and shareholders – while still benefitting the environment and society at large by delivering clean energy.
The company’s initial focus was on markets in developing countries, but as it matured, it also pursued opportunities in developed regions. Currently, the U.S. – the world’s largest market for solar power – is Morgan Solar’s biggest market and it will probably stay that way for some time, says Morgan. However, the company is also expanding into markets such as Pakistan, Egypt, North Africa and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Morgan says the company’s technology is particularly suited to developing countries for two main reasons: the upfront cost of the solar panels, which is lower than the competition; and a simplified installation process that does not require large civil construction.
“Essentially, our solar farms go into a field more akin to assembling IKEA furniture than constructing a building,” he adds. “There isn’t any excavation or civil works and no foundation to be created. This cuts time and alleviates the need for complex logistics and sophisticated construction, which is not always available in the markets where we’re trying to operate. Provided that you can get the equipment to arrive on a site, manual labour can take it from there.”
He sees this as Morgan Solar’s main differentiator.
“The conventional way of installing a large solar farm works fine if you’re in Phoenix, Arizona, but as soon as you’re in the middle of a remote part of Egypt it’s a little bit more complex.”
The company’s flagship product, called the Sun Simba, represents a new category of solar panel. It replaces the silicon solar cells of conventional solar panels with advanced optics for capturing sunlight and extremely efficient, multi-junction solar cells for converting that sunlight to electricity. The panel is more efficient and cheaper than conventional solar panels, says Morgan.
The company has also invented a new kind of solar tracker called Savanna, which allows the panels to track the sun. It does not require a foundation and can be set up in the field in minutes with only semi-skilled manual labour.
Morgan says the developing world represents the company’s best opportunities for growth.
“The whole of Africa, the Middle East and China — they all have a huge appetite for electricity and a strong desire and mandate to green themselves,” he adds.