November 22, 2010

From Drawing Board To Market

By: by Larry Rulison, Staff Writer, Times Union


Nov. 20--COLONIE -- A Colonie company that makes a key component used in residential and commercial solar electric systems may be close to becoming a full-fledged manufacturer.

The company, Inverters Unlimited Inc. on New Karner Road, makes an inverter that converts direct current, or DC, power created by solar panels, into alternating current, or AC, power.

Every solar electric system that is installed in a home or business needs an inverter, and most of them are made in places like Germany.

But Inverters Unlimited, which recently received the latest UL safety certification for its device, says it's ready to start full-scale manufacturing of its product. The hope is that installers and dealers will want to buy American devices rather than those made overseas.

Bob Rubin, the company's vice president in charge of sales and marketing, believes the worldwide solar inverter market could reach $10 billion by 2015 as demand for solar grows.

"It's an economic development opportunity," Rubin said. "We've got to be ready. We have an opportunity here."

Earlier this year, the company received the latest inverter certification from Underwriters Laboratories, which puts its seal of safety and compliance approval on tens of thousands of products annually. Although the company had previously received UL certification, UL changed its requirements, forcing all inverter manufacturers to go through the certification process again, an extremely expensive process for a small start-up.

"It's very difficult for the young entrepreneur to get through it," Rubin said.

Founded in 1998 by Suresh Bhate, a former consultant for Plug Power and Mechanical Technology, the company originally designed an inverter for fuel cells.

Inverters Unlimited has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, as well as funding from local investors. Former GE Global Research director Walter Robb sits on the company's advisory board, along with University at Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Professor Pradeep Haldar, who heads the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center at the college.

Bhate, who is president, is hoping to manufacture between 3,000 and 4,000 inverters next year, progress that would require additional hiring beyond its handful of employees. Graduates of Hudson Valley Community College's solar technician program would be perfect, the company believes. Bhate also has a solar installation company that has helped bring in cash while inverter technology was being developed.

"We'll be looking for venture capital as we start moving forward," Bhate said.