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Concentrated Solar Photovoltaics Reduce Long-term Solar Energy Costs

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RayGen Reseources, a company that provides solar power services, based in Melbourne, was granted a funding of $1.6 million to produce a 2kW concentrated solar photovoltaic (CPV) prototype and a 200kW pilot plant. The new technology is the first ever to combine high efficiency solar cells and a low cost heliostat collector system. This technology is expected to reduce costs to less than $60 per megawatt hour.

Members of the Australian Solar Institute, one of the main contributors to the grant, are certain that this technology would provide large arrays of cheap mirrors that will bring down the costs of concentrated solar thermal- the technology that is used to power turbines.

What makes the CPV technology attractive, is the fact that it can focus more energy on high efficient solar cells, and in this way double the efficiency rating of conventional flat panels. A report by IMS research, released last week, indicates that although the cells will be expensive, the savings from long-term cost of energy can reach up to 30% by 2016.

Until now, the CPV industry is dominated by U.S. Companies, more particularly Solar Junction and Amonix. South Africa is the next in line, with a 44MW CPV plant under construction. Australia is not that much behind. The CPV companies are competing to get high on the list of global solar energy suppliers.

Although the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics did not include CPV in their latest assessment of energy technologies, RayGen is determined to make a revolution in this field. They brought together experts in CPV- John Lasich, founder of Solar Systems and Bob Cart, founder and former CEO and Chairman of California CPV start-up GreenVolts.

The principle on which RayGen operates is similar to the one that Solar Systems (now property of Silex Systems) implemented in their 600kW pilot plant. They use big dishes that concentrate the power of the sun on a receiver. RayGen’s addition to this is the heliostats that direct the sunlight.

Bob Cart is certain that this can cut down the mass with up to 50% and consequently bring down the manufacturing cost to less than $1 per watt. He emphasized that the aim is to develop a technology that will not require subsidy, which will even out the costs of energy from solar and fossil fuel. The initial target would be the Australian off-grid market

The factory in Melborne is already building the system prototypes. The opportunity for the Australian manufacturing is not in the large and cheap materials, but in the solar cell modules and the operating systems, according to Cart. The initial plan was to base the company in the U.S but Australia was found to be a more attractive location for innovation and solar.

As stated in the IMS report, developments in CPV technology, provides the real opportunity for cutting down costs.  This will encourage increase in installations from 160MW to 3GW by 2016. In addition, the efficiency will increase, despite the higher initial costs and the difference in long-term energy costs of PV and CPV could reach up to 30%.

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