The solar power industry just got a little more interesting this week, with the announcement that Solar Junction and Amonix have signed an agreement to work together on the next generation of low cost, ultra-high efficiency concentrated photovoltaic systems. If you’re expecting another long slog through the R&D phase, guess again. According to Amonix CEO Pat McCullough, “The results of this collaboration, and its lower levelized cost of electricity (LCOE), will be revealed soon.”
Multi-junction solar cells use layers of different materials sandwiched together, which enables the cell to absorb light from a greater range of the spectrum. Solar Junction’s system also integrates relatively inexpensive lenses to concentrate more solar energy into a smaller space. Between the multi-junction cells and the concentrating lenses, the system achieves a one-two punch of high efficiency with lower costs.
Not for nothing, but we built this! Solar Junction was spun out of a Stanford University research project back in 2007, the same year that the Bush Administration established the SunShot Incubator program to provide seed money for promising solar tech companies. The program was juiced up and relaunched as the SunShot Initiative under President Obama, and it (in other words, we taxpayers) gave Solar Junction a $5 million funding boost in 2011.
Amonix and the Energy – Water Nexus
The energy-water nexus is an urgent issue for conventional fuels, natural gas fracking and mountaintop coal mining being two familiar examples. Solar energy is also not immune to the problem, particularly in regard to concentrated solar systems where water is used as a cooling agent.
Amonix uses no water at all for cooling. It uses a passive-air system to do the job that would be normally done by water, so in practical terms its water use is zero. Depending on the availability of on-site water supplies, a small amount is trucked in to keep the modules clean, and that’s it.
We Built this Low-Cost Solar Power!
Like Solar Junction, Amonix has set records for solar efficiency. In 2012 it set the “world record for CPV outdoor module efficiency” at a mark of 33.5 percent.
The utility-scale systems designed by Amonix are already on the market, and Amonix is also fully prepared to step up its integration of multi-junction cells. The company’s Amonix 7700 solar module was initially developed for single-junction cells, but a couple of years ago it began integrating multi-junction cells to achieve greater efficiencies, with the help of funding from the Department of Energy funding and access to experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Group hug!!!
The Amonix 7700 module also illustrates the broad goal of the SunShot Initiative, which is to bring down the cost of solar power by looking at overall cost of a solar installation, in addition to developing new cutting edge solar tech.
For example, the concentrating part of the Amonix 7700 module is based on the Fresnel lens, a cheap but powerful optical device first developed in the 1700′s.
Another important feature is the 7700′s use of transportable modules, which were developed with low-cost installation in mind. Each module fits on a flat-bed truck and can be installed in a matter of hours.
The pole-mounted design reduces costs related to site preparation, and it also reduces habitat impacts, while a dual-axis tracking system enables each module to catch maximum solar energy possible throughout the day.
The system’s near-zero water use also comes into play, since it enables far more flexibility in site location: namely, in dry, sunny areas where real estate is potentially cheaper and habitat impacts are minimal. The pole-mounted design of the module also helps to minimize habitat disruption and reduce costs related to remediation.
Image: Courtesy of Solar Junction
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+.