We know a lot about solar panels. We hear about Solar Roof products from Tesla. Concentrated solar power is showing promise in some large scale applications. Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) is a type of solar power that falls somewhere in between all those other categories but doesn’t get a lot of attention. It uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, but highly efficient, multi-junction solar cells, according to Wikipedia. In addition, CPV systems often use solar trackers and a cooling system for even greater efficiency.
Last week a research consortium called CPVMatch, which is funded by the European Union and led by Germany’s highly respected Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Research, announced that its latest experimental CPV solar module has achieved an incredible solar conversion efficiency of 41.4%. The secret to the new module is the use of achromatic lenses that focus incoming sunlight on miniaturized multi-junction solar cells. A two-axis solar tracker is also employed to boost efficiency during the day.
CPVMatch has been working toward the goal of making CPV technology production-ready for the past 3½ years. It has merged the efforts of researchers in Germany, Italy, Spain, and France. It is not enough to set records in the laboratory if the results cannot be translated into commercial products at an affordable price.
“In CPVMatch, we have addressed all production steps for concentrator modules starting from the materials, through cell fabrication and production systems, and up to the challenges facing module manufacturing,” says Dr. Gerald Siefer, project head and group leader of the research at Fraunhofer ISE. In a press release, Fraunhofer ISE claims the partners in the CPVMatch project have achieved two primary results.
By using new materials, processes, and manufacturing equipment, they have created innovative cell architectures for multi-junction solar cells. In addition, they were able to improve the design of the high concentration modules by modifying the optics and making use of achromatic lenses. “We are extremely pleased about these results that pave the way for further efficiency increases in the concentrator technology,” says Dr. Andreas Bett, director of Fraunhofer ISE.
It is unlikely CPV modules will be appearing on rooftops any time soon, but they could make a significant contribution to utility scale solar if they can provide far greater efficiency than conventional solar panels. Now the hard work of moving the new technology out of the lab and into the real world will begin.
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