The Northern Netherlands wants to play a leading role in the energy transition. Partly for this reason, as of September NOM is a shareholder of Coolback Company, which has developed a cooling back panel for solar panels. In rising temperatures solar panels perform less well, but with Coolback's cooling fins, efficient output is assured. The innovative company has a production site in Zuidbroek and focuses on product launch through large Chinese manufacturers, which control eighty percent of the global solar market.
The GROEIfonds of the Economic Board Groningen (EBG) brought Coolback to the northern Netherlands in 2018 and financed the further development of the innovative back wall. As a co-shareholder, NOM will now invest in commercially marketing the product and expanding the production capacity in Zuidbroek. 'That location has good logistical connections by road and rail, which will enable us as the Northern Netherlands to link up with the 'new silk route' to China,' said NOM Investment Manager Ruud van Dijk.
Entry into China
Entrepreneur Simon Meijer - founder and CEO of Coolback - realized from the start in 2016 that he could not ignore East Asia. 'Worldwide, eighty percent of solar panels come from manufacturers in China, so that's where the entrance to the solar market is.' The fact that Coolback won an innovation prize at the world's largest solar fair in Shanghai last year was a good start. Still, NOM cracked some critical nuts. 'Doing business in an international, rapidly changing and highly competitive market requires the necessary expertise,' said Van Dijk. 'We have confidence in Coolback because we see that everything has been well thought out. From technical product development to production and market preparation. That professionalism - in addition to the market opportunities - was the decisive factor in stepping in as a co-shareholder.'
Added value solar market
How important is a cooling back wall for solar panels? Meijer explains: "To make the most of solar energy, you need efficient panels. The point is that that efficiency decreases when the heat increases or when there are a lot of temperature changes. By cooling the panel via our cooling fins, you increase the yield and extend the lifespan. The latter even goes double with Coolback, because we have also developed a sturdier mounting on the support structure. We therefore offer a stronger back wall that both extracts excessive heat and withstands high pressure loads, such as high winds in solar parks on or near the sea. We offer this back wall at the same price as the usual frame constructions for solar panels, giving it real added value within the solar market.
The yield improvement due to cooling seems quite small - 3.5 to 5 percent and in extremely hot regions it rises to 10 percent - but according to Meijer this certainly makes an attractive difference for investors in solar parks. 'Add to that the longer lifetime and you'd be crazy to say no to our cooling back wall. We can work with competitive prices due to efficient production and clever use of materials. The combination of a technically complex product that is produced in bulk - because worldwide we are talking about millions of solar panels every year - means that we have to stay really sharp in terms of development. R&D is indispensable to respond to a growing market that is in full swing. So even now that the product is ready for the market, we don't lean back, we keep improving.
Coolback Company also developed an assembly machine that allows manufacturers to mount the cooling fins on the solar panels in their own production line. They also devised a new connector for installing panels. This plastic clamp is specifically designed for mounting solar panels with the Coolback rear panel. 'We are now fine-tuning the assembly machine at a manufacturer in China,' says Meijer. 'Unfortunately with some delay due to Covid-19 conditions, but once the first machine there is running at full capacity, we expect a quick scale-up to a second or third machine. And from then on we should also increase production of cooling fins in Zuidbroek. So the expansion here in the Northern Netherlands is related to the success in China and other countries. For example, we are also already working with a smaller manufacturer in Italy, who wants to buy our Coolbacks for a floating solar park in the Adriatic Sea.'
The young company currently employs ten people, six of whom work in Zuidbroek, two in Italy and two in China. 'Especially since the corona crisis, having people on location is proving very valuable. Because we are still in the construction phase, it is important anyway to build a solid base in the countries where we expect to do a lot of business. Sometimes that international character does lead to tension. Here in the Netherlands people often consider the market locally, from their own position and ambitions, while the global solar business has its own economic laws. For me personally, it is a nice challenge to work on that interface. The trick is to properly translate the thoroughness we are used to in our own country to a global market.'
In this white paper you will learn:
- What the innovation process looks like and what challenges you face along the way
- What opportunities there are to fund this early stage of your idea/product
- In what ways NOM as an investor can help you
Please note that this whitepaper is only available in Dutch at the moment. We are in the process of translating this whitepaper.