New technology focuses on the sun to cut solar's cost
(Reuters) - A fledgling but fast-growing solar technology that
multiplies the sun's power up to many hundreds of times promises to
deliver cheaper electricity than traditional panels and has received the
backing of some major industry players.
Called concentrating photovoltaic solar, or CPV, the technology is
best suited for very sunny, desert-like locations and could face some
near-term challenges. Those include a sharp drop in the price of its top
competition - mainstream solar panels - and a financing environment that
can be skittish about new technology bets.
That hasn't stopped some big corporations from moving into the space,
however, with U.S. solar company SunPower Corp and Swiss engineering
company ABB Group making significant bets on CPV in recent months.
Previously, the technology had been primarily the domain of a handful of
Silicon Valley startups.
"This is the only model which is viable in the long run because this
model is very competitive without the kind of subsidies which have been
supporting the PV market for the last decade," said André-Jacques
Auberton-Hervé, chief executive of French semiconductor materials maker
Soitec SA, which bought a majority stake in German CPV maker Concentrix
Solar in 2010.
CPV's market share is still tiny, with just 689 megawatts of projects
in development compared with 33,000 MW of installed non-concentrating
solar panels globally, according to GTM Research. It is expected to grow
quickly to more than 1 gigawatt of new installations by 2015, but its
share of the market would remain small given its geographic limitations.
In 2015, CPV would still represent less than 4 percent of the solar
Though CPV technologies vary widely, their fundamental similarity is
the use of lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight on to very
efficient photovoltaic cells. Tracking systems are used to capture
Because the sun's power is literally multiplied, fewer solar cells -
which are made from costly semiconductor materials - are needed. That's
a major advantage, CPV manufacturers say, as renewable energy is still
racing to reduce its cost so it can compete - without government
subsidies - with nuclear, coal and natural-gas-fired power.
According to GTM Research, the cost of a high-efficiency CPV system
is roughly equivalent to other PV projects today but is poised come down
faster than other solar technologies.
By 2020, CPV systems are expected to cost $1.20 a watt, compared with
about $1.67 per watt or more for systems made from rival PV
Soitec's Auberton-Herve pointed out that stalwart PV players such as
First Solar Inc are now eager to reduce their reliance on subsidized
markets and chase growth in CPV-friendly regions such as Africa and