New solar tech could bring jobs to Rangely

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An example of the concentrated solar cells created by Cogency Power. COURTESY PHOTO

RANGELY I “My goal, frankly, is to make the Western Slope the center of the universe for sensible solar,” said Doug Kiesewetter, CEO of Montrose-based Cogency Power to the Rangely Board of Trustees during a special meeting last week. Kiesewetter presented his company’s proprietary technology, Highly Concentrated Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) which combines aerospace grade “gallium arsenide” solar cells, 1000 to 1 magnification via parabolic mirrors and geothermal storage to achieve “a better way to do solar.”

The presentation focused on a few key points, primarily the cost effectiveness of Cogency’s integrated “distributed generation” power system. “We can deliver power to customers for 50-75% lower cost than what they’ve been experiencing with public utilities” said Kiesewetter. 

Cogency claims to achieve this level of high efficiency at a low cost by utilizing already existing technologies in an integrated way. “The key to this hasn’t been technology based, it’s how you assemble the technology pieces to make it work for the right applications,” said Cogency’s Chief Operating Officer Drew Granzow in an interview with the HT earlier this week. He explained exactly how the technology works, noting it is already in use at 5 beta testing sites in the US, including two in Colorado.

Granzow explained that conventional silicon based solar panels are about 15-20% efficient, and very temperature sensitive, losing additional efficiency in climates above 78 degrees fahrenheit.

Those drawbacks are what motivated Cogency to go with “gallium arsenide” based solar cells, which are used in satellites and other aerospace applications, due to their “temperature intensive” properties. Gallium arsenide cells are nearly twice as efficient, around 40%, compared to silicon. Normally these types of solar cells would be cost prohibitive, as they are far more expensive to produce, but Cogency seems to have a solution to that problem as well.

Granzow said to achieve cost effective power output with these cells, Cogency uses parabolic mirrors to focus the solar energy up to 1000:1 into a small area, reducing the amount of required solar material per panel.

The company regularly notes however that the actual solar cells are just a part of what “makes the system work” in an economic and energy sense. The other big factor at play in these systems is the integration of thermal storage. While 40% of the energy in gallium arsenide cells is converted to electricity that can either be stored or used on-demand, the remaining 60% is typically lost in dissipated heat energy. Cogency’s solution instead makes use of this heat, capturing and storing it in geothermal style bore holes for later use, a storage alternative that can be described as a “thermal battery.”

Thermal energy, which is measured in BTUs, can later be utilized for various applications such as space heating & cooling, refrigeration, water heating and more. Granzlow pointed out that in a large building, up to 60% of energy usage can be tied directly to these applications, which means utilizing thermal energy as an alternative could drastically reduce “electric plug loads” in existing buildings. Granzlow also pointed out that the thermal energy can be stored long term, even for multiple years if needed.

“That heat has real economic value, that’s the secret to how our system makes sense when the rest of solar really doesn’t,” said Kiesewetter, a businessman who is no stranger to the oil and gas industry, having founded multiple multi-million dollar oil and gas production companies in his lifetime.

Putting this technology into practice in a place like Rangely seems to make sense from Cogency’s perspective for a number of reasons. For one, like much of Colorado’s western slope Rangely gets a lot of sunshine, but Kiesewetter said there are even more enticing advantages.

“The Western Slope has a highly skilled and independent work force for whom the transition to solar geothermal would continue to provide well paying natural resource jobs outside that capitalize on the mechanical, electrical and maintenance skill of the existing workforce,” he said.

Skills like drilling, fabrication and on site construction/installation of natural resource infrastructure all tie into the transferability to Cogency’s proposed system. If the company were to expand into the region, they also hope to partner with Colorado Northwestern Community College to develop training programs for the installation of their technology in other parts of the state and country.

With the booms and busts of the past few decades still fresh in the minds of many residents, these kinds of promises may feel “too good to be true” for many, but Cogency says with an expectation to add hundreds of new jobs in Montrose by the end of this year, they’ll need to expand somewhere, and that somewhere might just be Rangely, Colorado.

Whatever happens, you can be sure Rio Blanco County residents and officials will keep a close eye on Cogency and their promises of a viable energy transition.


By Lucas Turner | lucas@ht1885.com