concentrated solar PV Is the Concentrated Photovoltaic Sector Heating Up?Concentrated 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.

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.

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.