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Analyst: Many CPV Firms Won't Deliver

Lux Research says that when solar power costs reach grid parity, compound semiconductor systems will near 2 percent of the $70 billion overall market.

By 2012 annual expenditure on installations using III-V solar cells will hit $1.2 billion, but not all of this sector s emerging companies will survive to enjoy this market.

In fact, market research company Lux Research predicts that 2009 will mark the beginning of troubled times for some concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system manufacturers.

“Within the next few years the funded business plans of many CPV companies will have come to fruition," says Lux senior analyst Michael LoCascio. “Many of these will not deliver on promises."

LoCascio says that as well as needing direct sunlight, the expensive GaAs-based cells used in CPV systems are commonly kept from operating at peak efficiency by engineering issues surrounding maintenance, cooling and wind resistance.

“CPV must be pointed towards the sun with accuracy greater than one degree," he pointed out, “so even a relatively modest wind gust can greatly reduce power output."

LoCascio predicts that when solar begins to reach cost parity with other power sources in 2012, III-V-based installations will gain nearly 2 percent of the overall system market. However, he shares the opinion of many within the industry that CPV could eventually overturn more established solar technologies in certain specific situations.

“I m rather positive that concentrating photovoltaics can be a disruptive technology in certain geographic areas, but not in its present form," LoCascio said.

“However, the more established CPV players employ top-notch engineering talent and are working diligently on the big issues. If they crack the code and drop prices, they may see a big win."

On the basis of interviews conducted in the course of his research, LoCascio said that currently between 20 and 50 percent of CPV system costs are spent on semiconductor cells. In Lux Research s report,“Solar State of the Market Q1 2008: The End of the Beginning", he says getting that figure down as quickly as possible is crucial for the future success of the CPV sector.

Lux Research is an independent spin-out of Lux Capital, a venture capitalist firm that has funded AlN substrate maker Crystal IS. Lux Capital boasts Herb Goronkin, who established Motorola s GaAs electronics program, as one of its three partners.

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