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Clean Power NREL and Amonix team up to develop cheap concentrated solar power

Published on February 19th, 2011 | by Tina Casey

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Solar Power Almost as Cheap as Natural Gas in Six States



NREL and Amonix team up to develop cheap concentrated solar powerIn the short time since President Obama’s alternative energy plan was announced, already the prospects look good for clean energy that is cost-competitive with fossil fuel. That’s without even factoring in the avoidable health costs that that the public currently absorbs from high risk, antiquated fuels. The latest case in point is a new high efficiency solar power system out of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Designed with the help of some centuries-old technology, it produces electricity at a competitive rate with natural gas in at least six states.

NREL Multi-Junction Solar Cells

The key to the new system is a high-efficiency solar cell  based on “multi-junction” technology. As reported recently on this site, multi-junction solar cells are far more efficient than conventional silicon solar cells. In the recent past they were not particularly cost effective, but that is changing as the technology improves. NREL has been working with the solar company Amonix to integrate multi-junction solar cells with its existing concentrated solar system, the Amonix 7700, which was originally designed for conventional silicon cells.

Super-Efficient Concentrated Solar Power

In the lab, NREL’s cells can convert 41.6 percent of the sunlight they collect to usable energy. NREL notes that production cells always under-achieve lab cells, and the ones produced for the Amonix 7700 are achieving 31 percent per module and 27 percent for the system overall. That’s quite a bit lower but it’s still a respectable figure; in fact, NREL states that it is the highest ever recorded for concentrated solar.

New Tech + Old Tech = Cheap Solar Power

Aside from using multi-junction solar cells, NREL and Amonix used a few tricks to keep the cost of the Amonix 7700 down. One factor was the pairing of each cell with an inexpensive lens called a Fresnel lens, which was first conceived and developed in the 1700′s. For less than $2.00 per lens, each cell got a whopping 500-power amplification. As with another modular solar power system new to the market, Amonix also focused on keeping the cost of installation at rock bottom. The 7700 requires only a few subassemblies that can be hauled to the site on just two flatbed trucks, and put together in several hours.

Solar Competes with Natural Gas in Six States

According to NREL, the 7700 produces electricity at or near the same price as a new state-of-the-art gas-powered plant in six states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas (based on CMRP). No wonder the fossil fuel industry is pulling out all the stops in its efforts to roadblock the President’s energy policies. Like firewood, fossil fuels will probably always have a place in the energy picture, but the time is fast approaching when they will no longer dominate.

Image: Pennies by jayhay312 on flickr.com.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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    • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    Yankee Doodle! You are out of oil! You are out of countries to bomb for oil! China is willing to pay more for oil than you can! Oil is getting scarcer by the day! Hubbard’s curves drawn up well before the astounding Asian expansion we are witnessing, predicted the “End Days of oil” for you, for the world! Yankee Doodle! What choices do you have? China recognized the “Energy Crisis” and has revived, re-engineered, the Thorium fueled LFTR reactor as a stop-gap, safe, plutonium free, fission savior for their world, not yours! They do so have the world’s very best electric bullet train systems in this world – they do not depend entirely on gasoline, they have so diversified for safety’s sake. You have not! You are one oil crisis short of complete economic collapse. Nobody to bomb, nobody to threaten, nobody to rob, nobody to bully, you will sink or swim on the availability of oil in the world – and you cannot bomb a dry oil well back into production, you cannot threaten the skies over it with jet fighters armed with even nuclear war-tips. As the end of Saudi oil becomes apparent, as the OPEC nations wells empty out, you face the specter of a military immovable for lack of oil! A population starving because the machines of production work only on oil. you watch even now, your fiat, paper ‘Funny Money’ devalue before your very eyes to pay for foreign oil, to support ‘parasite’ countries, that do little else than provide you with oil, oil they get freely from the ground! Yankee Doodle! Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Bio-mass, Anaerobic sewage and manure digestion, Thorium fueled LFTR reactors, and a massive gut wrenching paradigm shift away from your current ‘Status Quo’ to a more realistic, powered in America, from American Domestic sources, society are your saviors now. The new Asian Empire will tolerate no less from you, the new Asian reality demands this of you, and the world is no longer yours to exploit, but theirs to to as they wish with. China has won the war, on the economic battlefields of the world, against the U.S.A. Without question. China holds in its hands, the assured total destruction of the U.S. Dollar. Proverbs 22:6 Even the wisdom’s of the ancients freely given to you by the Jewish people were not heeded. It is done.

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  • 373959

    The PRICE of Solar may be less than natural gas, but not the COST.

    This article is just more misleading and ignorant “cheerleading.”

    • Jay

       Hi. Could you please tell other readers what you mean by the difference between price and cost? I’m lost. Thanks!

      • AndrewW

        Don’t bother Jay, these websites are not about objective reporting – they are about promoting solar schemes no matter what the costs are.

        Solar is not a SOLUTION – we need to keep looking. 

      • AndrewW

        Don’t bother Jay, these websites are not about objective reporting – they are about promoting solar schemes no matter what the costs are.

        Solar is not a SOLUTION – we need to keep looking. 

        • Mark

          373959. if you mean the cost to the developer to build, maintain, and decommission facilities, my understanding is that solar is much cheaper than natural gas. The total monetary cost to society is far less for solar, too, as I understand it. Is this wrong? Not trying to be arbitrary, I’d really like to know what kinds of costs you are talking about.

        • aligatorhardt

          When asked for reference, there is none, just religious like assertions based on imagination. Face the facts, fossil fuel and nuclear power keeps going up in price and solar keeps going down. There is no need to suffer the environmental degradation from dirty power any longer.

        • aligatorhardt

          When asked for reference, there is none, just religious like assertions based on imagination. Face the facts, fossil fuel and nuclear power keeps going up in price and solar keeps going down. There is no need to suffer the environmental degradation from dirty power any longer.

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