Unique Solar Concentrator Claims High Performance

A solar energy company in Texas will receive more than $400,000 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop a unique solar concentrator module for solar electric power plants.

KELLER, Texas – ENTECH Inc received the $407,000 contract from the Department of Energy to develop a solar concentrator module that uses economical plastic Fresnel lenses to focus sunlight onto very small, high-efficiency solar cells. These special solar cells were originally invented by NREL. The cells use several thin layers of gallium arsenide alloys and germanium to convert the different colours in sunlight to electricity with unprecedented efficiency. NREL says its test of a miniature prototype achieved a conversion efficiency of 27 percent, almost double the efficiency of conventional solar cell modules now on the market. In addition, the new concentrator has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of solar electric power plants, by using less than 1 percent of the expensive solar cell material compared to conventional flat-plate solar cell modules. The contract resulted from a competitive NREL procurement entitled the High Performance Photovoltaics Initiative. The goal of HPPI is to enable solar power to make a significant contribution to energy supply and environment in the United States in this century. The ENTECH will be supported by 3M of St. Paul, Minnesota, which will provide the plastic Fresnel lenses, and Spectrolab, a subsidiary of Boeing, to provide the high-efficiency solar cells. In addition to these industrial organizations, NREL will provide technical guidance and testing support throughout the 14-month program. ENTECH is a privately held company that has patented a number of unique products which are related to the efficient conversion and utilization of solar energy. Its products include solar electric generation equipment for ground-based power plants, solar power arrays for spacecraft, and collimating tubular skylights for buildings. In the space area, the company made the 720 lenses used on the award-winning solar array on NASA’s Deep Space One spacecraft, launched in 1998. With the solar arrays still performing without problem, Deep Space One is more than 200 million miles from Earth on its way to a comet encounter later this year.

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