State of the CPV Consortium

“Is the CPV (Concentrator PhotoVoltaics) Industry Ready to Ramp?”
LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) but what does it cost to install capacity?

From PV Industry Forum 2009

On the second day of the PV Industry Forum 2009, SolFocus VP Marketing Nancy Hartsoch, in her role as CPV Consortium Chairman/Director, presented “Concentrator PV Advanced Technology Becomes Commercial Energy Solution” to kick off the misnamed Session 6: Silicon PV Outlook – Concentrating PV.

While I was irked (it wasn’t just me) by the three CPV PR movie clips, Technology Overview, Concentrix Solar factory automation, and ISFOC, punctuating the presentation, I was heartened by the messaging.

CPV was positioned as the having the best performance (kWh, kilowatt-hour production) and soon LCOE in hot climates with high Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI). Ms. Hartsoch claimed CPV generated “>20% More Energy (kWh) at Same Rated Power (Wp) in Hot Climates” than traditional silicon solar modules at 40 degrees C (Celsius). [Wp, Watt-peak]

From PV Industry Forum 2009

In noting that CPV companies manufacture the highest efficiency solar modules available, Ms Hartsoch said:

And efficiency is the key driver of cost of energy, it doesn’t matter what kind of technology it is. When you get that into figuring out your Levelized Cost, efficiency is going to have the biggest impact on that. And CPV clearly as you can see here has the highest efficiency.

From PV Industry Forum 2009

As higher efficiency Multijunction (MJ) III-V Solar Cells are developed, CPV expects to extend its efficiency advantage and beat thin film a la First Solar in LCOE terms by 2010 given the hot climate and high DNI prerequisites mentioned above.

The second half of the CPV Consortium presentation titled It’s Time to Do Some CPV Myth Busting!addressed common CPV Myths.

Too Expensive?
The above LCOE slide was intended to dispense with the cost myth. Although a utility scale photovoltaic developer will analyze a project using LCOE metrics, in the end, a system capacity will be chosen to generate a certain amount of power or to maximize a limited resource such as land or transmission capacity.

Regarding the “Explosion of CPV Players”, Nancy said:

We believe there is no reason the cell cost with commercialization and volume can’t get to $3. Today it’s between $5 and $10 and closer to the top side of that.

These prices seemed to refer to a 15 Watt MJ III-V solar cell.

Contrast this frankness with a later Question and Answers exchange:

Q:Can you give an order on the system costs involved with CPV in large scale installations?

A: Ms. Hartsoch said: “In what metric, the cents per kilowatt hour?

Q:No, in Dollars per installed Watt.

A: Ms. Hartsoch said: “Dollars per Watt. You know that’s a metric that we typically with CPV don’t talk a lot about because all it does is tell you what it costs to install something but It’s not related to the amount of energy you produce.

Of course, the system capacity in Watts is directly related to the amount of energy produced. The root issue is how to compare CPV to other photovoltaic technologies. In passing, Ms. Hartsoch mentioned a PV equivalent metric without discussing it. For example, the PV equivalent of a CPV system capacity could be increased by the aforementioned energy production adder of at least 20% in hot climates.

One problem with using LCOE as a technology comparison tool is complexity and the numerous assumptions made to develop the model. SunPower Corporation authored a 27 page white paper on the topic, “The Drivers of The Levelized Cost of electricity for Utility-Scale Photovoltaics”. SolFocus also authored a paper, “LCOE for Concentrating Photovoltaics (CPV)”, that is only available on SlideShare, not their own website.

The CPV Consortium is looking to standardize LCOE models used by CPV companies for comparability, but this won’t help compare competing PV technologies. I believe the inability to discuss system cost or price, even via the flawed dollars per Watt metric, leaves the CPV is Too Expensive Myth unbusted.

The last public CPV system cost metrics available are from the ISFOC 1.3MW CPV Power Plant tenders made public. Winning ISFOC bids were centered around €6 per Watt or $8.31 per Watt at today’s exchange rate. With SolFocus, Concentrix Solar, Sol3g, and others in mass production now, that is a CPV system cost myth worth busting.

Well, this is the second week the Blog has been excluded from Google Search results. I’m not sure if it is related to WordPress plugin upgrades gone awry or some real or alleged affront to Google guidelines. I do know the RSS Scrapers are still getting good search results with =my= content. I might have to consider switching to bing which indexes and provides good results for this Blog. Google, please fix this!


  1. Ravi Soparkar says:

    CPV is certainly an innovative approach for harvesting Sun enenrgy more efficiently. It is necessary to work on cost effective CPV which will be blessing forever in energy sector. Ravi Soparkar, Pune, India

  2. Cyril R. says:

    Experience from the Spanish SolFocus project, a serious 10 MWe commercial project, shows a cost of 10,300 per kWe or more than 10 dollars per Watt. The industry isn’t delivering on it’s cost targets at all. It’s been a big disappointment so far. If they can’t get a 10 MegaWatt peak project under 10 dollars per Watt then the future of the industry doesn’t look sunny to me.

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