Durham solar panel innovator Semprius is two weeks away from opening a manufacturing facility in Henderson that is expected to employ more than 250 people at assembling the world's most efficient solar panels.
Semprius said today it will open its facility Sept. 26. Company officials, and many supporters in industry and government, see the Semprius plant as a milestone for the Durham startup and a potential leap forward for clean energy.
The 60-employee company says its high-efficiency panels will bring down costs to the point that solar energy will no longer require government subsidies. Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology vouched for those claims by listing Semprius on the university's prestigious roster of the world's most important emerging technologies.
Semprius has several customers in the pipeline to buy its panels, including Siemens, the European energy conglomerate that recently bought a minority state in the six-year-old Durham startup. Semprius had previous conducted small-scale tests of its panels, which have been manufactured for the company by RTI International, the Research Triangle Park nonprofit research organization.
The manufacturing facility, announced last year, could qualify for more than $18 million in state and local financial incentives if Semprius meets hiring targets. The company said it would hire 256 people over three years in such areas as engineering, operations and maintenance.
Semprius modules convert nearly 34 percent of sunlight into electricity, about twice as efficient as conventional sola panels, by concentrating sunlight to the equivalency of 1,100 suns. The technology also saves expenses by recycling the costly substrates in which the crystals are grown to make solar panels.
The company has generated great interest and support for its technology. Semprius has raised more than $40 million in venture capital, including a $3 million federal stimulus grant. Semprius co-founder John Rogers in 2009 won a $500,000 "genius grant" from the MscArthur Foundation for his work in applied physics and semiconductors.