SAN FRANCISCO — Concentrating solar photovoltaic (CPV) technology focuses the sun on a tiny photovoltaic cell in order to create solar power. In areas of high DNI (direct normal irradiance) the technology is a perfect match for creating power, said Gaeten Borgers, Executive VP of Soitec Solar. With solar power plants in 18 countries worldwide, Soitec is slowly but steadily attempting to prove that it can be the lowest-cost power source in hot, sunny regions.
Last week during a press briefing at Intersolar North America, Soitec announced its plans to produce a 50 percent efficient cell, pushing the NREL efficiency roadmap ahead by 5-10 years. “We need a step change,” said Borgers. By using what it calls a “smart cell,” a 4-junction cell that the company is developing in conjunction with the Fraunhoffer Institute, Soitec thinks it can approach the 50-percent efficiency mark by 2015. The new technology uses “smart cut” and “smart stack” proprietary technology that enables cells to “stack without the problem of lattice matching,” Borgers said.
The company began work on this project about two years ago, said Borgers, and in May 2013, Soitec announced a world record breaking 43.6-percent efficient 4-junction cell. “So right at the start we are at the level of the best 3-junction cell,” he said. This breakthrough gives the company confidence, he explained. “This is why we believe that CPV at Soitec has a real chance to succeed,” he said.
With a 50 percent efficient solar module, Soitec said it can install solar at a levelized cost of energy of $80 per MWh, the price point it believes will make it the cheapest electricity source for utility-scale applications in hot sunny areas. “We believe that our offering is a very good match for that market.” That market, by the way, has a lot of growth ahead of it according to Borgers who pointed to research showing that emerging markets will be adding solar capacity the fastest over the next few years. “If you look at which markets are opening, those are the markets that need electricity and many of them are in high-DNI regions,” he said, naming specifically the UAE, Chile, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Namibia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Africa among others. Borgers said that Soitec is well positioned because it, “has not invested in developing channels for markets that won’t exist tomorrow.” When other solar companies were setting up shop in Europe, Soitec was leaving, said Borgers.
The company also explained its strategy for entering a new market. It starts by constructing a small pilot plant in a new region to make the locals comfortable with the technology, learn about doing business in the area and get a feel for the local EPC. It follows that with a large-scale power plant. This is the model that it used in South Africa, building a 1-MW plant in Touwsrivier and then following that with the announcement of the 44-MW plant that it is building now.
Most recently Soitec is focused on Saudi Arabia. In June the company announced that it is building a 1-MW facility in the Tabuk region in partnership with Saudi Aramco, a global petroleum and chemicals company owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. According to a press release about the project, Saudi Aramco’s objective for this project is complete the project on schedule while testing the performance of CPV technology to better assess its levelized cost of energy (LCOE) advantage for future utility-scale installations.
Lead image courtesy Soitec