Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Solar Companies Merge Technologies in Bid for Utility-Scale Production

From Greenwire via the New York Times:
As the race to create clean, renewable power heats up, the solar industry is focusing on a technology in hopes of producing utility-scale energy.

Concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) solar power -- which marries traditional solar photovoltaic technology to large-scale concentrated solar power plants -- could ramp up utility-scale solar production, advocates say, especially in niche markets. But as with all developing technologies, the effort faces significant hurdles.

CPV technology involves magnifying the sun's energy hundreds of times via lenses or mirrors and focusing it onto small, extremely efficient photovoltaic cells. By magnifying the solar energy, the technology can reduce the amount of semiconductor material needed for the photovoltaic cell.

"In a lot of ways, it's merging the advantages of photovoltaic technology with the efficiency and ability to capture more sunlight that you get with concentrated," said Nancy Hartsoch, vice president of marketing for SolFocus, a California company. "You're basically focusing 650 suns onto that cell, so you're able to use a very, very small amount of photovoltaic material to capture a tremendous amount of sunlight and then convert it at very high efficiency."

SolFocus is among a handful of companies working on CPV technology. Its model involves a two-mirrored system that directs sunlight down an optical rod onto a small (1 square centimeter) photovoltaic cell. Several mirrored units are placed together on a panel, which is mounted on a tracking apparatus to follow the sun throughout the day....MORE