Winner Spotlight: How Lucelo is Making Solar Power Available to All
Aaron Chockla and Taylor Harvey began developing a solar power technology while working on the PhDs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Now they are working together to put electrical power where it doesn’t already exist with their low-cost, printable solar cells. These cells convert energy from the sun or other light sources into electricity. At Lucelo Technologies, ordinary materials are turned into micro power grids using affordable methods.
Lucelo won the energy and sustainability category at the Austin Challenge Cup earlier this month and will advance to Washington D.C.’s Challenge Festival in May. Following the competition, 1776 talked with Chockla and Harvey about the company’s successes so far.
What is Lucelo Technologies?
We build ultra-lightweight, flexible solar cells using solar paint. We use the solar cells themselves—they allow us to integrate solar power generation on pretty much anything. Our mission eventually is to put solar power everywhere, taking it places it’s never gone before.
What makes Lucelo different?
Traditional rooftop solar cells weigh about 20 times more than our product. There are some lightweight solar cells currently on the market, but these are expensive. What we are able to offer is lightweight, flexible solar cells at a similar price to the very heavy rooftop solar cells.
Tell me about your team and how you came together.
Taylor and I got our PhDs in the same group, so we’ve known each other for six or seven years. The company spun out of the work Taylor was doing with portable solar cells during his PhD.
How did you develop the idea? What issues did you see that needed to be resolved?
The biggest thing that needed to be resolved is the idea of printed solar cells—we were at the forefront of it, finding a spot where we could do things other solar technology couldn’t do. Building solar cells on material that other solar cells couldn’t be built on—the lightweight, low-cost plastic that really no one else could build. We developed the idea over time, talking to customers for feedback. Initially, we tried to build on glass, but we wanted to do something totally new, so we went back to the lab to try something else.
What has been instrumental in your success so far?
Both of us are committed to this idea that we can put power anywhere that’s low cost—that’s a huge factor, making it equally available to everyone in the world.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
The main challenge we have had is helping people understand that we are not trying to be a “solar” company. We are trying to help people generate power in places where it previously wasn’t possible. Because of this, solar conversion efficiency is not as relevant as meeting the needed power requirements at a reasonable cost. We are often judged by the same criteria that other solar companies are, but this isn’t the best way to evaluate us.
How did Challenge Cup help you?
Any pitch competition is helpful, but the Challenge Cup in particular changed the way people thought about us, specifically those connotations that come with solar power. Challenge Cup did a great job with pitch mentoring, especially the 60-second pitches. People really liked it at first, but I got some great pointers that really did help us. It was also just a great opportunity to meet people and network.
What’s next for Lucelo? What’s the ultimate dream?
The ultimate dream really is for us to get people to run solar power everywhere. The next big thing for us is to make sure we continue on the path laid out in front of us and to continue developing the technology by raising money.