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III-V solar firm nets $10m fund

San Francisco's GreenVolts secures a $10 million fund as it works to build the world's largest concentrating photovoltaics plant "“ a 2 MW facility in northern California.

GreenVolts, a US start-up that specializes in high-concentrating photovoltaics (HCPV) systems, has won $10 million in series A funding.

The investment was led by renewables specialist Greenlight Energy Resources, although it also included several other investors, such as the energy company Avista.

Using multi-junction solar cells based on III-V semiconductors exclusively, GreenVolts has developed an optical tracking system that it claims to require less land and only half of the capital investment demanded by competing approaches.

The cash injection will help GreenVolts as it begins building a 2 MW solar energy facility that should represent the biggest single HCPV installation in the world when it is completed in 2009.

GreenVolts says that one of its systems has already begun generating electricity at Avista s test site, and that it is on track with the 2 MW plant, referred to as "GV1".

Earlier this year, the local energy provider Pacific Gas and Electric chose GreenVolts to build the GV1 plant on an eight-acre site in Tracy, California - just 60 or so miles inland from San Francisco.

Most HCPV facilities under development are sited in sunny locations that are ideally suited to the technology, such as around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and in the desert locations of the south-western US.

As a result, the Tracy plant should provide an interesting test case to see whether HCPV can live up to expectations in what could be a slightly cloudier climate.

GreenVolts is also bidding to get involved in the large-scale HCPV demonstration project currently under way in Castilla La Mancha, Spain (see related stories).

While Isofoton, SolFocus and Concentrix Solar are already building 1.7 MW of total power for that project, the winners of a secondary round of bids to provide a further 1.3 MW system power should shortly be revealed.

GreenVolts tendered a bid to provide a 200 kW system, but is up against stiff competition including cell manufacturer Emcore and SolFocus among others.

With the solar energy market dominated by silicon-based systems currently, the potential for HCPV technology is only just becoming a commercial reality.

However, HCPV proponents believe that, when installed in appropriate conditions, the highly efficient III-V cells that it is based on could offer genuinely low-cost solar energy without the need for government subsidies.

Sven Hansen from the Swiss investment firm Good Energies suggests that of the 2.7 GW of solar energy systems deployed in 2006, CPV represented just 3 MW - or 0.1 per cent.

Quoting optimistic scenarios from leading PV industry analysts, Hansen suggest that, by 2011, CPV could grow to capture as much as 7 per cent of the solar market, or an annual production of 1.5 GW.

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