Brite Solar is a nanotechnology company, developing nanomaterials materials for solar glass applications in agriculture to facilitate sustainable food supply. Brite Solar consists of a team of 20 highly educated people, who are all company shareholders. The company is headquartered in Thessaloniki, Greece with R&D development offices in Patras, Marketing and Sales Development in the U.S and Project Development in the Netherlands.
Brite’s technology allows the dual use of land for both agricultural production and solar energy production at the same time, either in a greenhouse or in crop protective structures for open-field farming (Agri-PV).
Greenhouses are an important technology for agricultural production worldwide. However, depending on the type of greenhouse structure and crops’ needs, they can be very energy demanding. Currently they rely mostly on fossil fuels to cover their energy needs, e.g. for cooling or heating. Energy cost is considered to be one the most important costs of the greenhouse, reaching up to 28% of the operating costs. Brite tried to develop a sustainable technological solution that solves the problem of energy cost in the greenhouse and has small or zero carbon footprint, being aligned with EU’s goals (re: Green Deal) of climate neutrality by 2050.
Brite Solar was founded in 2010 when the company’s founder and CEO Dr. Nick Kanopoulos, came back to Greece, after almost 30 years of studies and professional experience in the US.
Dr. Kanopoulos, an electrical engineer, worked for many years in the semiconductor industry. The last 2 years of his career in the US he worked for Applied Materials, a major technology supplier for turn-key factory equipment for the manufacturing of conventional solar panels.
When working in solar industry, he came up with the idea that a greenhouse is an excellent construction to produce energy, as long as the roof and/or the glass panes around it were photovoltaic panels (PVs).
On the downside, conventional panels lacked in transparency for use in the greenhouse because the plants under the glass need to photosynthesize. There had been trials with the use of conventional PVs sparsely placed on the greenhouse roof, but in several cases they impacted negatively on plant growth, and were therefore not a universally applicable solution. In cases of open-field horticulture, PVs compete for land use. PV panels needed to be transparent enough in order to allow plant photosynthesis and avoid yield losses or negative effects in plant growth.
The idea development started in 2010 when Dr. Kanopoulos started discussions with Elias Stathatos, Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Peloponnese and Head of the Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Laboratory (N&AML). His research interests were focused on third-generation solar cells and the use of nano-structured materials. They had to answer to the question: «Can we create a PV panel, transparent enough in order to allow plant photosynthesis, without negative effects on crop yield?”
Early years 2010 – 2013
Brite Brite was founded in 2010 by Dr Kanopoulos with Dr. Stathatos being in the core team. The aim was to develop the idea of semi – transparent PVs for greenhouse use and to turn such an idea into a marketable product.
At the beginning, the company was entirely funded by Dr. Kanopoulos (seed investor) and funds from Greek and European Innovation Programs followed (Green Deal, H2020 and National Programs). In those years, the company faced several financial difficulties. At that time, Greece was experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis, with severe implications in attracting foreign investors (high country risk). This factor slowed down the company’s development significantly, which was a common problem for all start-ups. In addition, the absence of down payments in many projects resulted in cash flow management to be a significant problem (required the existence of own capital).
Coping with Greek bureaucracy that is involved in the management of National and European projects was another great challenge. Hundreds of working days and hours were devoted to loads of paperwork and bureaucratic procedures.
But the most important challenge was to produce a validated prototype based on a technology that was not in the market and devise the means of mass production for this technology.
In the early years, Brite started the semi- transparent third generation solar panels development by using Dye Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSC) technology, which they believed would yield a viable product. Brite was the first company to develop a scheme that was manufacturable for that technology (standardized materials, ability to be developed in big surfaces and potential industrial production). But after 5 years of laboratory development, when they did the pilot test in a greenhouse, they found that the glass transparency affected the crop yield negatively by 20%.
Figure 1: Semi – transparent third generation PV panel (Dye Sensitized Solar Cells)
Pilot test 2013 – 2015
During 2013-2015, Brite did a pilot test in a greenhouse cultivating tomatoes. They collaborated with ELGO-Dimitra, the Greek Organization for agricultural research and promotion of innovations. These experiments were done in the context of a national funded project called “COOPERATION”. Two identical greenhouses were compared, the first one using conventional glass and the second one using Brite’s solar glass. Brite provided the innovative solar greenhouse and ELGO tested the crop development. Results showed that the solar greenhouse had a negative impact on the tomato yield in the order of 20%.
These results contradicted the agronomist assurances to Brite stating that the panel transparency was suitable for the light requirements of crops like tomatoes and other salad vegetables.. When developing the prototype panel, they were giving emphasis on the average transparency of the panel. However, the transparency was not linear over the visible spectrum and more specifically over the first photosynthetic area for plant development of 400 to 459 nanometers. In fact, the panel was 35% transparent in that region, which reduced the tomato yield by 20%. Most importantly, this solar glass transparency was fixed and couldn’t vary at the manufacturing stage, which made the product applicable only to crops that could be unaffected by the light transparency of the glass. This limited the market for this product.
Brite had developed a technology that would have negative effects on some crops, and therefore couldn’t be applied universally, because no farmer would accept a yield loss just to produce energy. So, they decided to do a pivot, and change the technology completely.
New technology development 2015 – 2019
The new panel (Brite Solar Glass Panel), was based οn silicon-based solar cells, and the transparency of the panel was fixed to be linear over the visible spectrum, in all the important stages of plant photosynthesis. Most importantly Brite adapted the glass transparency to the light requirements of crops under the glass, thus making a product with universal applicability.
Custom made panel transparency and size
Brite developed the ability to adapt the panel transparency to the light requirements of the crops under the panel. And because there is no standard dimension in greenhouses, they are able to change panel size depending on the greenhouse construction (roof size). So, they do not have one product, but one design with different levels of transparency and panel size. That is a Brite’s distinctive comparative advantage.
Figure 2: Different size and transparency configurations of Brite Solar Glass Panel
Nano-coating materials for photosynthesis optimization (Luminescent Solar Coatings)
Another technological advantage is the optimization of the transparency of the solar glass in the wavelengths critical to photosynthesis.
Brite has developed nanostructured coatings which convert UV light into strong visible light. These coatings absorb light in the ultraviolet spectrum, which is useless for both plants and solar cells and retransmits it into the red (600-650nm) or blue (400-450 nm) region of the spectrum which is useful for both plants and solar cells. This provides an increase in the primary photosynthetic regions when compared to standard greenhouse glass, i.e. the amount of light energy the plants receive in order to photosynthesize, is increased. The nanocoating can also be used in conventional glass to increase the plant’s photosynthetic activity.
Figures 3,4: Glass covered with Brite’s nanostructured coatings, illuminated with low-power UV light.
Figure 5: Demonstration of the nanocoating effect when two cubes of coated and uncoated glass are illuminated by UV light.
At the same time, Brite Solar Glass Panel transmits uniformly all wavelengths of the visible light spectrum.
The efficiency of solar cells is also increased which allows for increased power in Brite Solar Glass. By combining this coating with silicon based solar cells, Brite has developed the worlds’ most transparent solar glass (80%) with the highest solar cell efficiency.
Panepower Panel Description
A Brite Solar Glass Panel consists of a glass coated with Brite’s nanostructured materials and on this glass, solar cells are placed. The arrangement of solar cells depends on the transparency required for the crop under the glass.
Figures 6,7: Brite Solar Glass Panel designed for vineyard greenhouse cultivation.
Α. Net metering
The greenhouse can be connected to the grid and use net-metering to avoid the cost of storage and offset all electricity costs needed for its operation.
Β. Use of batteries in cases of no available grid connection
Coupled with energy storage technologies such as batteries, a greenhouse can store the excess power produced during the day to be used at night or on cloudy days.
Pilot tests of Brite Solar Glass Panel
Brite Solar Glass Panel was finalized as a product in 2019 and has been used for a great number of pilot applications in greenhouses but also in open field cultivation (agrivoltaics) with excellent results and without any negative effect on crop yield.
2019: Vineyard in greenhouse with Brite’s solar glass – Evangelos Tsantalis Vineyards & Wineries, Thessaloniki, Greece
A study facilitated at Evangelos Tsantalis vineyards, one of the largest wine producers in Greece, cultivating almost 200 hectares of private owned vineyards. A 0.1-hectare greenhouse was experimentally installed in 2019, over a 10-year-old vineyard, by using Brite’s Brite Solar Glass Panel on the roof. This allowed the measurement of the actual carbon footprint wine grape cultivation, which, until now, was only theoretically estimated. The energy produced by the Brite Solar Glass Panel installed on the rooftop exceeds the energy needed to operate the greenhouse.
Figures 8,9: Vineyard cultivation in greenhouse, Tsantali vineyards, Thessaloniki, Greece.
2022-2025: Tomato greenhouse, Ptolemaida, Greece
Figure 10: Tomato greenhouse in Ptolemaida, Greece.
2022-2023: Demonstration greenhouse, ornamental plants, World Horti Centre, the Netherlands
Brite’s initiative to create a demonstration greenhouse with ornamental plants, in collaboration with Vertify research center, an independent private foundation in
Netherlands which conducts applied research on a variety of crops and tests newly developed innovations. (https://www.vertify.nl/en/)
Figures 11: Ornamental plants demonstration greenhouse in the Netherlands.
2021-2022: Agrivoltaics over blueberries, the Netherlands
Agrivoltaics application with Brite’s solar glass over blueberries and pear orchards, in collaboration with Wageningen University, Netherlands. Wageningen is responsible for the assessment of crop development. Both projects are partly funded by the Dutch Government.
Figures 12,13: Agri-PV over blueberries in the Netherlands.
2021-2024: Agrivoltaics over pears, the Netherlands
Agrivoltaics application with Brite’s solar glass over pear orchard, in collaboration with Wageningen University, Netherlands. Wageningen is responsible for the assessment of crop development. Both projects are partly funded by the Dutch Government.
Figures 14,15: Agri-PV over pears in the Netherlands.
2023: Agrivoltaics in avocado trees, Crete, Greece (Project in development)
Patents and Excellence
The prototype product was finalized in 2020. Brite’s technology is protected by patents in the Netherlands and EU, China and the US (15 patents granted and pending). Brite has won numerous national and international innovation awards.
The company has won a number of very competitive EU and Greek research and development projects raising the funds needed to develop its products. In 2020 the European Innovation Council Fund made an equity investment in the company.
Currently there are 10 end users, all of them giving positive feedback.
Brite is building its own factory and production line in Patras, Western Greece aiming at the development of an international sales network for its products. Funds were raised by private venture capital and the European Innovation Council Fund, which is EU’s flagship innovation program to support breakthrough technologies and game-changing innovations, managed by the European Investment Bank.
Temporary difficulties are due to current supply chain circumstances, and they include high shipping costs and a long production cycle.
Brite’s solar glass panels cost on the average 40-70 EUR per square meter. This cost depends on panel transparency and volume. The panel transparency depends on the light requirements of the crops under the canopy.
Solar glass panels have a life cycle of 25 years. So, after break-even point, the investor will have energy for free. The average break-even point is 5-7 years.
In addition, Brite has developed a Total Cost of Ownership model which allows one to input the greenhouse specifics (location, size, construction, plants to be grown, energy source) and then calculate the energy production and savings from Brite’s installation.
Brite’s technology provides a practical approach for dual use land, either in greenhouse or in open field crops (AgriPV). PVs can be placed in highly productive land and have energy and agricultural production at the same time.
Energy autonomy: In the greenhouse the electricity generated by Brite’s solar glass can almost eliminate energy costs, without affecting the yield of the crops. Excess of solar energy is fed into the grid.
- Open field (Agri-PV)
- Crop protection: AgriPV is used as a crop protection canopy to reduce damage caused by adverse weather conditions, such as frost , snow, hail, excessive heat.
- Rainwater management: Brite provides a support structure for collecting and re-using rainwater for optimized irrigation.
- Energy production: The energy generated can be sold to the power utility or used to replace traditional fossil fuel equipment with clean electric ones.
Brite’s technology is suitable for any type of glass greenhouse or open-field crops. All sizes of farms benefit from such an investment.
The investment can be made by:
- The farmer
The farmer/farm owner makes the investment, to offset the electricity costs by using the generated solar energy.
- An energy investor
An energy investor rents the land or the space over the land from the farmer/land owner. The farmer will benefit from the crop protection canopy construction (protection from weather extremes and rainwater collection) while the energy investor benefits from selling clean energy to the grid.