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Big Opportunity In 'Nano'solar

CNBC.com

If you haven't heard of a little startup called "Nanosolar," you will. And soon.

The San Jose, California company has already attracted more than $100 million in venture capital investment, including big checks from Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and other well-known Silicon Valley luminaries.

"This is the first time that we can actually drop the cost of solar electricity down to a level that would be competitive with grid electricity in most industrialized nations," says Brian Sager, the company's co-founder, in an exclusive interview.

The reason the company is generating so much buzz is that classic case of building a better mousetrap, seizing on two of the biggest trends going in technology nowadays: solar power and nanotechnology. Nanosolar is creating an entirely new kind of solar panel and customers are lining up.

"We're fully sold out for the next year, once our plant is up and running," Sager says. That plant, under construction right now in South San Jose, is over 200,000 square feet and will be the epicenter of a brand new technology. The new facility will build enough solar cells to generate 430 megawatts of power, which would turn it into one of the world's largest solar power producers.

This isn't about expensive, slow-to-build silicon panels. Nanosolar has created a new, patented, spray-on film that can be printed on a flexible foil material, and then rolled out on any surface. Soon, the same technology will be incorporated into a new generation of roof tiles; even window coverings.

"Solar panels have not been very popular to the American people because they've been too expensive. That's what we're changing now," says Martin Roscheisen, another of the company's co-founders.

Nanosolar's secret sauce is just that: a patented glop of metals and nanoparticles that work together once they're exposed to sunlight, absorbing light and then producing energy. The substance is then sprayed on a durable foil by machines that look like giant newspaper printing presses. The process dramatically speeds up the manufacturing process.

"We're trying to achieve fantastic scale," says an early Nanosolar investor, Eric Straser from Mohr Davidow Ventures. "But we're really doing it in a way that achieves a cost breakthrough at the same time."

Says co-founder Roscheisen: "We've had tens of thousands of inquiries from people around the world."

A company with a future so bright, you gotta wear shades.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com