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First SolFocus array up and running in Spain

The US supplier of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems based on III-V solar cells has installed the first power-generating array at the 3MW demonstration project in Castilla La Mancha, Spain.

The first concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system to be installed at the international demonstration project in Castilla La Mancha, Spain, is now operating.

Based on high-performance GaAs- and germanium-based solar cells, the SolFocus array is rated at only 6.2 kW, but it represents a successful first step in a project that looks crucial to the emergence of a market for III-V chips in terrestrial photovoltaics.

SolFocus, which is contracted to deliver systems capable of generating 0.5 MW at the site, has been working on its initial 200 kW deployment for the past three months.

Early tests have been positive, with this first 6.2 kW array said to be performing even better than its designed output had suggested. "[This] is significant at the early stage of this project," said the team.

Although there are presently no large-scale CPV installations in operation anywhere in the world, the much higher efficiency of III-V cells compared with traditional silicon approaches could offer much more economic power generation under clear blue skies.

Pedro Banda is director general of the Instituto de Sistemas Fotovoltaicos de Concentración (ISFOC), which is co-ordinating the overall 3 MW CPV project. He said of the SolFocus installation: "This is a very important occasion, as it brings the industry one step closer towards commercial deployment of CPV technologies."

"SolFocus first installation marks the official launch of the power-generation phase of the program," added Banda.

The US company, which agreed a 12-month deal for 600,000 cells with supplier Spectrolab back in August 2006, says it already has more than 40 kW of test arrays installed at various locations.

Pedro Ladrón de Guevara, general manager of the company's tracker division, commented, "We share the belief with the ISFOC leadership that CPV is the disruptive technology that will have a major impact in moving solar energy toward a more cost-effective and scalable mainstream energy source."

If that belief turns out to be justified, it should result in a significant new market sector for III-V device manufacturers. Aside from existing III-V cell makers like Emcore, Spectrolab and Germany s Azur Space, many larger compound semiconductor manufacturers are keeping a close eye on terrestrial solar (see related stories).

• GaAs photovoltaic cell maker Emcore has agreed a deal with solar energy project developer SunPeak Solar that will see the Albuquerque-based company supply up to 700 MW of power via its own CPV systems.

The two firms have signed a memorandum of understanding, although actual deployment remains some way off. SunPeak is in the process of securing land and grid access for utility-scale CPV installations in the south-western US, with project construction expected to begin in early 2009.

SunPeak CEO David Rennie said that after researching the various technology options for solar power, he concluded that CPV represented the best solution for the desert geography of the south-west US.

The agreement also depends on the US federal investment tax credit for renewable energy technologies extending into 2009 and beyond.

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