U.S. Rep. Ron Barber today welcomed an announcement that the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $1 million to a Tucson company that has developed a unique and innovative solar-energy system.
The grant was awarded after Barber organized a visit to Tucson by a top Energy Department official who toured the company.
The grant was awarded to REhnu Inc., a Tucson solar startup with deep ties to the University of Arizona. It uses a new type of solar-energy technology developed by Dr. Roger Angel, a regents’ professor of astronomy and optical sciences at the University of Arizona.
Dr. John P. Schaefer, a former UA president, is president and executive chairman of the company’s board of directors. Dr. Peter Strittmatter, a regents’ professor of astronomy at UA, is secretary of the board of directors.
“I applaud the Department of Energy for acknowledging that the cutting-edge technology developed by REhnu can lead to exciting advances in the solar energy field,” Barber said today. “This game-changing development can bring jobs to Southern Arizona and make our state a solar leader.”
As district director for then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Barber organized a 2011 trip to Tucson for the director of the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to participate in a solar roundtable. While in Tucson, the director toured REhnu’s facilities. It was this agency that awarded the $1 million grant to the company.
“We appreciate Rep. Barber helping to bring our work to the notice of Department of Energy officials,” said Justin Elliott, chief executive officer of REhnu. “It was very important for us to get an opportunity to explain and demonstrate in person what we do.”
REhnu’s goal is to produce solar electricity generators in high volume at lower cost than any other method. It uses large glass mirrors to concentrate sunlight and small, space-proven photovoltaic cells to make electricity directly, with very high efficiency. The company says that this combination of proven technologies promises solar electricity at the price of conventional generation.
Angel, who has developed ways of making large, uniquely curved telescope mirrors at UA, is working on a glass-molding technique that creates very precise solar mirrors in a variety of shapes. His focus is on developing a novel hot-glass molding process aimed at high-speed production at low cost.
The $1 million SunShot Incubator Award will allow REhnu to manufacture a production-ready prototype of its solar-energy system. Out of hundreds of proposals submitted, REhnu’s was one of only 10 that were funded.
Barber long has been supportive of UA efforts to develop solar technology. In August, he held another solar roundtable at the UA Science and Technology Park, home of the Solar Zone. Barber is a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition in the House of Representatives.
The DOE SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.