Is the Concentrated Photovoltaic Sector Heating Up?

Filed under: 1sdn,Solar Energy | |

concentrated-solar-PVConcentrated solar photovoltaic energy or CPV is a relative newcomer to the solar power arena and is showing signs of entering into a phase of very rapid growth. It works by concentrating the sun onto a small area of active PV, which operates at around twice the efficiency of normal PV, and promises savings because it requires only a fraction of the photovoltaic material that normal systems require. The DOE has announced a $90 million loan guarantee to support a planned 30-megawatt facility near Alamosa, Colorado.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post Chris is the co-editor of The Green Executive Recruiter Directory. Follow Chris on Twitter @greeneconpost

Concentrated Photovoltaics or CPV is a relatively new and promising form of solar energy that is now beginning to make it out into the market. CPV systems use optics to concentrate a large amount of sunlight onto a relatively small area of specially designed solar photovoltaic material that can work with highly concentrated light energy. Unlike traditional, more conventional PV systems, CPV systems concentrate light and can produce the same power from a much smaller area of solar cells. For this reason they may be able to produce electricity for less than conventional PV can. CPV, like solar thermal systems, also known as CSP, first concentrate the incident solar energy onto a much smaller active area, which is where the sun’s energy is actually collected, but unlike CSP systems CPV uses photovoltaic tecnology to directly transform the highly concentrated photons into electricity, whereas CSP uses these concentrated photons to heat a working fluid, which then is used to generate electricity in a thermoelectric plant.

To read more the promise of the other form of concentrated solar power or CSP see our related post: “Does Concentrated Solar Power Have the Answer to Intermittency Concerns?“.

30 Megawatt Project to be Built in Alamosa, Colorado

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it will help to bring this technology to market with a a $90.6 million conditional loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC to help secure financing for a 30-megawatt facility to be built near Alamosa, Colorado. The project is one of the first utility scale, concentration photovoltaic energy generation facilities in the U.S. and the largest of its kind in the world. Cogentrix estimates the project will create about 75 construction jobs and 10 operations jobs. It will be located on 225 acres of land in the San Luis Valley. Commercial operation of the project is targeted for the second quarter of 2012.

“Colorado has long been a leader in the development and deployment of renewable energy, and this project builds on that record,” said Secretary Chu. “By deploying an innovative, commercially-ready technology at utility scale, the Alamosa Solar Generating Project is increasing the generation of clean, renewable power, creating jobs and strengthening the U.S. economy.”

“Today’s [Tuesday’s] announcement from the Department of Energy is exciting news for Colorado,” said U.S. Senator Mark Udall. “With this significant financial commitment, Cogentrix will have the tools to finish construction on one of the largest and most innovative photovoltaic solar power plants in the country — as well as create a significant number of jobs in the San Luis Valley. I have long been a supporter of smart renewable energy projects, and I look forward to watching Cogentrix’s plans unfold.”

“This is great news for the San Luis Valley and for the entire state’s new energy economy,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “This new solar facility will further solidify Colorado’s lead in clean energy, create good-paying jobs, and provide a much-needed economic boost for the San Luis Valley and all of Colorado.”

The multi-junction solar cells are nearly 40% efficient or about double that of more traditional PV. Cogentrix will use 23.5-meter-wide panels with more than 1,000 pairs of lenses and solar cells on each. The panels are mounted on tracking systems that keep the lenses pointed within 0.8 degrees of the angle of the sun throughout the day, to ensure that light falls on the system’s 0.7-square-centimeter solar cells.

CPV Is Expected to Rapidly Expand Its Market Share

The CPV sector is tiny compared to other solar power sectors including traditional PV. In fact it currently represents around one tenth of one percent of the total solar market. However it is expected to begin a period of sustained and rapid expansion as the technical challenges that have held it back are solved. Some analysts are predicting that it will double in size each year through 2015 as new entrants begin to scale up production and lower costs. One such player is Soitec, which has announces major 150-megawatt CPV solar power project plant for San Diego Gas & Electric to be constructed on a 1057-acre site in Southern California’s western Imperial County, and is expected to be completed in 2015.

In our related post: “U.S. Utility Solar Market Takes Off“, you can read more on how the utility scale segment of the solar power renewable energy sector is is now on par with the commercial and residential segments in terms of market size and growing at a higher rate.


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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • daniel maris

    I think the problem here may be that single word: tracking. Tracking is ever so expensive both as a capital cost and in terms of maintenance. But it’s not impossible the higher yield and lower use of expensive materials may balance that.

    We certainly need to explore all these avenues.

    One area of research that excites me is infrared panels that have now been developed. Potentially one could have normal PVs on the upside and infrared panelling on the underside. The underpanelling would absorb infrared energy released at night by the Earth. Imagine that – 24 hour panels! However, at the moment the infrared panels are very inefficient, so it is not something that is ready yet.

    But, as I say, we need to explore all these technologies.

  • http://greeneconomypost.com Chris de Morsella

    Thanks for pointing that out Daniel. CPV needs very fine tracking because of the optics.. even a few degrees off axis can result in a rapid drop off of recovered power. So you are absolutely correct in this, and thanks for pointing it out. I believe you answered you own question and form what I have read it is a combination of the higher per unit yield > 40% (which is much higher than standard PV) the reduced amount of expensive silicon required and perhaps incremental improvements in the tracking mechanisms themselves as well.

    Like you I am excited by the new cells that can use the infrared bandwidth as well… this would help make PV much more widely suitable as they could continue to produce, albeit a t a lower rate, even under light cloud cover. Scientists are also extending PV into the ultraviolet wavelengths. The wider the band that can be absorbed to generate current the more efficient these will become.

    Imagine where we could be in ten to fifteen years from now.

  • daniel maris

    “The only way is up” for solar power – cheaper materials, greater efficiency – whereas for nuclear power the only way is down, as more and more safety measures have to be put in place.

  • http://greeneconomypost.com Chris de Morsella

    I think it is a telling sign of which way the wind is blowing that French nuclear giant Areva is making big investments in solar energy development and is buying up solar power companies.

    Perhaps they can see the writing on the wall and are trying to position themselves for the future.

  • http://www.FlatironSolar.com Bob Monnet

    What about the heat? I thought this has been tried before and the panels “burned out” before their time. Seems like an accelerated life test but I don’t know.

  • http://greeneconomypost.com Chris de Morsella

    Bob – I have to believe that they must have worked out some of these issues in dealing with highly concentrated sunlight (up to 1000X from what I have read). They have lined up some pretty big backing for this project in terms of loan guarantees etc. — which I would hope had a lot of due diligence performed before the ink was put to paper.