The Next Niche Market for Solar? Drones—Yes, Drones
By Alexis C. Madrigal
Very high efficiency, rugged solar panels could find their first markets outside the green demographics.
The idea that solar is a nice, soft technology that only liberals could love reaches back into the 1970s. It was there that the counterculture adopted solar energy as an alternative to the fossil fuels that dominated (and still dominate) the American energy mix. Solar became a symbol that Reaganites were happy to pillory in the 1980s, and that political divide continued into this century.
But it's not just geography that's changing the solar political picture. Solar power is increasingly useful to the Department of Defense. And that's a niche market that Alta Devices, which makes an ultra-efficient, ruggedized solar cell is hoping to make money.
When we visited Alta Devices for the video you see above, they'd recently incorporated their solar technology into a drone wing. While they're currently working on short-flight duration drones, their technology could potentially extend the flying time of military unmanned aerial vehicles like Predators from a couple of days to much longer. While Alta is still in the early days of developing solar that can be incorporated right into these flying machines, it's fascinating to think of a solar company that has to sell to military contractors, not eco-conscious homeowners.
Here you see Joe Foster, VP of Business Development and a lifelong Silicon Valley resident, discuss how the company's technology and business work.