The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – At Semprius Technology, technological advances in capturing and converting sunlight to electricity is also capturing global attention as a legitimate source for power, not just political hype.

The latest boost to Semprius’ credibility that touts what it calls “the world’s smallest solar cells” and a world record for solar energy-to-electricity conversion comes from one of the most respected tech publications around.

The Technology Review from MIT has picked Semprius for its 2012 “TR10” list, which includes what the TR considers “the 10 most important technological milestones reached in the last 12 months.”

Firms and individuals selected represent technologies that TR believes “will have the greatest impact on the shape of innovation in years to come.” (By the way, the CIA must think so, too – It’s a Semprius investor as is power giant Siemens; local backer is Durham-based Intersouth Partners; the company raised another $7.5 million in March despite a lot of negative news in the solar power sector.)

“This impact can take very different forms: one technology points toward a method of discovering better battery materials for mobile devices and electric vehicles; another offers a new way for entrepreneurs to fund the commercialization of emerging technologies,” TR says. “But in all cases, these are breakthroughs with the potential to transform the world.”

So why pick Semprius?

Because the company is increasing the efficiency of coverting solar power to electricity. (The Semprius marketing slogan is “Lowering the cost of renewable energy.”)

“Semprius’ technology is promising because it could significantly lower the cost of solar power for utilities,” said Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of Technology Review. “It will be worth watching this company as it scales up its production in the coming years.”

Added the TR10:

“This past winter, a startup called Semprius set an important record for solar energy: it showed that its solar panels can convert nearly 34 percent of the light that hits them into electricity. Semprius says its technology, once scaled up, is so efficient that in some places, it could soon make electricity cheaply enough to compete with power plants fueled by coal and natural gas.”

Utilizing gallium arsenide rather than standard silicon in its solar panels, Semprius demonstrated a 34 percent to 23 percent advantage in efficiency, TR10 notes. Better efficiency means lower costs.

Semprius tells TR10 its technology process also produces less heat by magnifying sunlight through glass lenses on small cells. The end result could be electricity at a cost of 8 cents per kilowatt hours vs. the average retail cost of 10 cents per kilowatt hour in 2011.

But technology prowess doesn’t guarantee financial success for Semprius, TR notes.

Beyond the natural limits of solar (clouds, etc.) there also is the cost of production. Semprius is building a small factory for panel production but the cost of conventional silicon panels “fell by more than half in 2011,” TR notes.

At least for the moment, Semprius can bask in the light of some very good publicity.

“Inclusion in MIT Technology Review’s distinguished list represents the gold standard for innovative new technologies,” said Joe Carr, chief executive officer of Semprius, in a statement. “Our company’s success is a result of the hard work of our staff and support of our partners. Semprius remains focused on lowering the cost of renewable energy, and we look forward to opening our plant later this year where we will work to meet the demands of our customers and partners.”

Read the article about Semprius here.

Find the full list here.