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Semiconductor test company launches solar product; can region be 'Green Valley?'

[caption id="attachment_21764" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Xandex's first solar product, a shade-beating tool for voltaic panels"][/caption]

PETALUMA – Long-time semiconductor test company Xandex Inc. is shifting its focus with the launch of a solar product, the first of a series.

According to President and CEO Kamran Shamsavari, the new solar division represents the company's recognition of the industry's growth, both locally and world-wide.

"Without neglecting our 150 semiconductor test customers, we were looking to develop a new line of products. Solar is a natural outgrowth of semiconductor technology," he said.

The first Xandex product, launching this week at Intersolar Europe 2010 in Munich, is a tool to address one simple but vexing problem for residential and small commercial installations: shade.

In most solar systems, energy is collected from a string of panels and sent to a central converter. If one panel on the string is affected by shade, the whole string's output is significantly lessened.

Xandex's SunMizer is an electronic solution, a box attached only to each panel affected by shade. It mitigates shade impact on the string and boosts energy output as a whole.

"A favorite tree, a chimney, an architectural feature ... each can impact solar harvest," said Mr. Shamsavari. "To maximize output you must choose between limiting the size of your installation and leaving gaps where the shade falls, which looks unattractive."

SunMizer solves the dilemma at what amounts to only $20 to $25 a panel. It's not the only electronic solution for solar energy waste, which has been the target of semiconductor and solar technology developers since solar technology has been widely deployed.

Recently, chipsets have been introduced to address the problem, as have microinverters and wireless electronics.

Petaluma-based Enphase Energy – which last week received an additional $63 million in venture funding – has a system that puts a microinverter on each panel, managing its output, along with Web-enabled informatics.

The Tigo Maximizer Systems, deployed by REC Solar, uses wireless technology to manage panel arrays, with conversion taking place within range but not on the roof.

"The trend is to make each panel or each panel array smarter, regardless of the actual conditions," said Mr. Shamsavari.

"Our philosophy is to deploy a minimum amount of electronics, which always present additional failure points, especially in harsh rooftop environments."

The SunMizer offers no bells and whistles in the form of Web interfaces and reporting functions.

Its market niche is relatively small, taking into consideration that residential and small commercial systems represent about a third of panels deployed worldwide, and about a tenth of those systems are candidates.

But Mr. Shamsavari and his team are hopeful the simplicity of the SunMizer – and its ability to up power production by 10 percent to 15 percent – will find it lots of friends among installers.

DC Power Systems, the Rohnert Park-based international distributor of renewable products, has signed on as a distributor.

Manufacturing will take place at the Petaluma facility, and 75-employee Xandex intends to hire sales, marketing, engineering and development staff.

In the pipeline of the Xandex solar division, which is expected to represent two-thirds of the company's portfolio within three years, are products that optimize solar power on the string level and the development of solar informatics systems.

For the last several years Xandex Investments, a wholly owned subsidiary that offers seed funding to high-tech startups, has been looking at advances in solar technology, investing in Sebastopol-based SolMetric and Skyline Solar in Mountain View.

"Our research gives us a good view of emerging technologies," said Mr. Shamsavari.

He remembers the buzz that surrounded semiconductors when Xandex was founded 30 years ago. He also witnessed the rise and decline of Telecom Valley.

"This area is home to so much talent. Why shouldn't it become 'Green Valley' next?" he said.