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Sharp "to ship GaAs solar systems in 2007"

Sharp, the world's largest manufacturer of conventional solar cells, is to begin shipping GaAs-based concentrator photovoltaic systems for terrestrial electricity generation next year.

The Japanese online business newspaper Nikkei.net has reported that Sharp, the world's leading maker of solar cells, is to begin selling concentrator photovoltaic systems next year.

GaAs-based solar cells used in the systems are grown on a germanium substrate and have a photovoltaic conversion efficiency of over 37 percent. The systems are set to begin shipping to customers in Europe, where solar power enjoys a large subsidy from the European Union.

Until now, Sharp's commercial sales of solar energy systems have not included concentrator photovoltaics based on compound semiconductors. However, the Japanese electronics company has been developing the technology in its laboratories for some time.

And at the World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion in Hawaii earlier this year, Takashi Tomita confirmed Sharp's backing for III-V concentrator systems when outlining the company's future vision of photovoltaics.

Tomita, a corporate executive director at Sharp, said that concentrator systems would play a key role in the energy industry, particularly in areas where skies are typically very sunny.

He identified the Mediterranean coast in Europe, north Africa, southern Australia and the south-western US as some of the best geographies for concentrator systems.

Citing figures based on tests in Arizona, Tomita said that a concentrator system tracking sunlight throughout the day would generate 40 percent more electricity than a comparable system based on crystalline silicon.

And if concentrator systems were deployed very widely in these sunny regions, they could produce phenomenal amounts of clean electricity. Tomita estimated that widespread implementation in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico could generate as much as 2.6 TW hours of electricity annually.

To put that figure in context, 2.6 TW hours would be equivalent to just over 40 per cent of the predicted total electricity generation in the US for the year 2030.

"This calculation is based on our achieved technology right now," Tomita said.

Although the cost of concentrator systems for utility-scale electricity generation is currently very high, Tomita indicated that this could change quickly with a manufacturing scale-up.

"In regards to the system cost, the portion of cell cost is relatively small [for concentrator systems]," he claimed in his paper from the Hawaii conference. "It means that there is a big potential for the system cost to be reduced by economies of scale in the near future."

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