CPV Outlook 2012: The Only Way to Go is Up

The third quarter of 2011 was the concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) industry’s best one yet, say analysts. Four MW of the technology, spread out over three projects, were installed mostly in the Southwestern U.S. More CPV is expected to go online by year’s end or early in 2012, including Cogentrix’s 30-MW Alamosa Solar Generating Project, which was awarded a U.S. $90 million loan guarantee in September.

Most company execs know that CPV costs still need to come down in order for the technology to compete with PV. Soitec is working to reduce the cost of its technology through lighter, easier to install components. In October 2011, it unveiled a new configuration of its Concentrix system, which the company said makes installs faster and cheaper. In addition, Soitec is working on standardization of components. “The standardization is a huge contribution to cost reduction,” said Hansjoerg Lerchenmueller, founder and senior vice president at the company.

Soitec currently has a 305-MW pipeline of projects in California and plans to build a 200-MW factory also in California in the near future, said Lerchenmueller. He expects to finish building the factory in 2012 and see real volume coming out by the beginning of 2013. It’s that volume that will also lower prices, he said.

According to Skyline Solar’s VP of Marketing and Field Operations Tim Keating, the outlook for CPV “is sunny.” Skyline is different, said Keating, because it uses regular components that were developed for the PV and the CSP industries and puts them all together. That way “we’re able to hit the lowest LCOE,” he said. He thinks Skyline is in the “sweet spot” of the CPV market, due to the fact that costs are coming down and the technology is proven. “If CPV can hit these price points, we can compete with flat plate even a lot lower than it’s going now because we already have a 20 percent advantage on them even at this dollar-a-watt panel price,” he said.

More and more developers are switching planned CSP projects to PV — a trend that is likely to continue into 2012 — and Keating thinks this is an opportunity for CPV. “A big opportunity, in fact,” he said.

With such a small amount of product in the ground right now, the only place to go is up, Keating said. He pointed to the fact that SunPower was getting into the space as another example of the technology potentially ramping up in the near future. In October, SunPower announced that its new C7 tracker is commercially available. The system reportedly concentrates the sun’s power seven times.

Keating said SunPower’s technology looks a lot like what Skyline had about two years ago and views its entry as welcome competition. “It’s great to have a billion dollar company endorsing your strategy,” he said.

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