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Greek Power Plant to Use New Solar Technology

Post Time:Dec 16,2008Classify:Glass QuotationView:509

A technology that uses special mirrors and lenses to help generate electricity from sunlight may be a new bright spot for the solar industry.

Often called "concentrated photovoltaics," the technology was the focus of a $103 million deal in November to install 10 megawatts of generating capacity in southern Spain, enough to power a city of 40,000. SolFocus Inc., the Silicon Valley company that supplied technology in that transaction, on Monday is also announcing a deal to help build a 1.6-megawatt power plant in Greece that is based on the same approach.

Concentrated photovoltaics use mirrors and lenses to direct an increased amount of energy on smaller solar panels, which can be made from low-cost materials such as glass and aluminum, thus avoiding the use of silicon, a commodity that can be subject to shortages that keep panel prices high.

The technology is on a trajectory to grow from less than 10 megawatts of generating capacity world-wide this year to as many as six gigawatts by 2020, according to a report issued earlier this year by Greentech Media and the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, research groups both in the Boston area. That would pale in comparison to the projected 300 gigawatts in overall solar production by then, but would still double the current overall capacity of nearly three gigawatts -- most of which is supplied by silicon-based solar panels.

SolFocus is expected to announce a transaction Monday with Samaras Group, a renewable-energy developer in Greece. Including the latest deal, SolFocus officials say they will have contracts to install up to 20 megawatts of capacity.

The start-up, based in Mountain View, Calif., has raised $96 million in venture capital since its inception in 2006, and expects to close another $60 million to $80 million in venture financing by the end of January, said Chief Executive Mark Crowley. He said that money is being used to help increase the company's manufacturing capacity.

In all, investors have poured almost $400 million in venture capital into the concentrated photovoltaic sector over the past three years, Greentech Media estimates.

One big limitation for the technology, analysts say, is that it is best suited for locations with ample direct sunlight, like southern Europe and the American Southwest.

Conventional solar panels, by contrast, are being deployed almost everywhere. The concentrated technology isn't seen as practical for many homes and businesses, because it requires more room to set up.

The technology also has a few bugs to work out, some industry officials say. Sharp Corp., for instance, is testing concentrated photovoltaics on three continents. But the Japanese company hasn't marketed anything yet because of issues including a tendency of the machinery to be impacted by dust and getting the concentrating equipment to point directly at the sun for best results.

"It's still a few years out, but there is a spot for this," said Ron Kenedi, vice president of Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group, a Huntington Beach. Calif., unit of Sharp's U.S. subsidiary.

The technology is seen having the highest potential in supplanting conventional power sources in midsize applications, such as supplying power for a water treatment plant. "It will occupy the middle ground of 10 to 50 megawatts over time," said Eric Wesoff, a Greentech Media analyst based in Woodside, Calif.

Source: THE WALL STREET JOURNALAuthor: shangyi

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