The U.S Department of Energy is backing the construction of one of the largest planned concentrated photovoltaic solar power plants. Concentrated solar power plants have only been constructed on small scales thus far.
Even this one, which is 30 MW (i.e. 30,000 kW or 30 million watts) is not very large compared to many other power plants, but it is one of the biggest concentrated photovoltaic plants planned in the world (don’t mix this up with other concentrated solar plants such as solar thermal — solar thermal power plants, unlike concentrated photovoltaic plants, use the sun’s heat to generate electricity, using normally steam or stirling engines).
Amonix, a company headquartered in Seal Beach, California will supply the concentrated photovoltaic systems required for this project. The reflectors are integrated into the panels with the solar cells (the parts that actually generate electricity).
The purpose of concentrating sunlight onto solar cells is to increase the amount of power that each solar cell produces so that fewer solar cells are required, reducing the relative cost (since solar cells are very expensive).
The DOE is providing a $90.6 million loan for this project to help it along. Amonix claims that it’s solar technology can generate twice as much electricity per acre as traditional solar panels can.
Each panel is 23.5 metres wide and is equipped with 1,000 pairs of lenses and solar cells. They each utilize a tracking system to ensure that the panels continuously face the sun and, thus, receive as much sunlight as possible.
Lenses, mirrors, and other reflection and concentration equipment required to concentrate sunlight onto solar cells cost a considerable amount of money, but have the potential to lower the cost of a solar setup if the photovoltaic cells are extremely expensive. The cost of solar cells has been following a downward trend, and this means that concentrated photovoltaic technology’s days may be numbered. In other words, concentrating sunlight will no longer make financial sense if solar panels get cheap enough to out-compete such systems.
Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) currently account for 0.1% of the solar market due to the fact that it is newer, but it is an evolving technology and is worthy of keeping an eye on.
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