Monday, November 26, 2012

Quick guide to concentrated photovoltaic technology (CPV)

Solar energy industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Fast growing industry is always connected with new technologies and Concentrated Photovoltaic Technology (CPV) is certainly one of the newest technologies.

CPV is yet to be used on the wider scale as it currently accounts for only around 0.1% of global solar market. This is mostly because this new photovoltaic technology is much more complex compared to conventional photovoltaic technology and bigger complexity means bigger costs.

CPV is different than concentrated solar power (solar thermal). The main difference between these two technologies is in the position of lenses. In solar thermal power plants lenses concentrate sunlight to generate the temperatures needed to produce steam that drives a turbine while with CPV technology lenses are used to focus sunlight onto small solar cells. Focusing sunlight on small solar cells does not only improve the efficiency of the cells but also reduces the amount of expensive solar cell material needed to produce a certain amount of electricity.

Many solar energy experts claim that CPV technology is more effective compared to conventional solar power technology, and that it can produce significantly more power per acre compared to older PV technologies. But the big downside of this new solar technology is high costs.

Why high costs? As said before CPV technology is very complex because the lenses have to precisely track the sun. The one of the best ways to decrease the costs of CPV technology would be scaling up. Even despite this significant drawback in terms of costs this new technology is getting more attention in United States. The best proof to this is a 30-megawatt CPV power plant near Alamosa, Colorado that has started operating in April 2012. Under development is also a 150 MW CPV power plant in Mexico.

Solar power is currently the most popular renewable energy option in United States, and the strong surge in new photovoltaic projects in the United States will no doubt mean more money for new solar power technologies. CPV certainly has great potential but it will need some time to mature enough in terms of cost-effectiveness.