The Rebirth of Concentrating Photovoltaics

The Concentrating Photovoltaics (CPV) industry will soon take up a larger share of the solar market as technology improves, investment pours in and cost comes down, according to leading CPV manufacturers at the Solar Power 2006 conference and expo.

CPV uses lenses to concentrate sunlight onto photovoltaic cells, allowing for a decrease in cell size. Because a CPV module needs less cell material than a traditional PV module, it is cost effective to use higher quality cells to increase efficiency. However, the technology makes up a very small portion of the solar industry. The CPV industry, which has not experienced much growth in the last decade, is now poised for a breakthrough in the near future. Exhibitors showing their products at the San Jose Convention Center are excited about the potential for CPV in the solar market. “Concentrators have been pretty negligible in the market place. But as the technology becomes economical, new investment comes in and the solar industry fragments, CPV is starting to see some major progress,” said Brad Hines, CEO of Practical Instruments. Hines was showing off Practical Instruments’ Heliotube technology on the exhibition floor. The rooftop module consists of rows of miniature solar panels in aluminum troughs. Glass panels that cover the troughs concentrate light onto the cells. The technology, said Hines, uses around 85 percent less PV material than traditional solar cells, dramatically reducing cost. Hines estimated that around a third of calls to his office come from consumers who are interested in CPV. “We are creating a bigger pie for the entire solar industry,” said Lee Johnson, Vice President of Business Development at Stellaris Corporation. Stellaris was promoting its Clear Power technology — a transparent CPV module that was created for easy integration into building design. Johnson said that architects and builders have been responding positively to the Clean Power module, which will be on the market in 2008. “Aesthetics are one of the most important factors for an installation. Because of this product and others, we are reaching people who might never have considered solar before,” said Johnson. Indeed, new technologies like these are raising CPV out of a period of stagnation. Raed Sherif, head of terrestrial products at SpectroLab, said that concentrators will play a major role in making solar cost competitive with fossil fuels. “There is very big growth happening in this market because CPV is offering lower cost electricity,” Sherif explained. “There have been many innovations in the industry, so we are rapidly lowering cost. This technology is here to stay.” Those who are at Solar Power 2006 representing CPV are positive about the future of their market. As awareness for CVP among consumers grows, the technology will get more efficient, more aesthetically pleasing, and of course, more affordable.
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I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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