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Amonix: The Future Of Concentrated PV After All?

Just when you thought Amonix was scaling down operations, the CPV system manufacturer comes back with a re-vamped manufacturing strategy and a cheaper module. Compound Semiconductor talks to founder, Vahan Garboushian, about the company's future.

The Amonix 7700 Solar Pow
er Generator: A cheaper version is promised for the end of this year.

When Amonix called an end to concentrated photovoltaic module manufacturing at Nevada in the Summer of last year, the industry was left shaken.

But ABB's decision to stop funding up and coming start-up GreenVolts, only two months later, sent the industry reeling. Had CPV finally fallen foul to the ever-decreasing costs offered by silicon PV manufacturers? Recent developments from Amonix would suggest not.

In February of this year, the company revealed it had joined forces with Solar Junction, a key developer of multi-junction solar cells for the CPV market, in a bid to drive module efficiencies up while bringing costs down. Amonix has worked with most cell developers, and very closely with multi-junction cell developer, SpectroLab, but Solar Junction's record-breaking cell efficiency of 44% at 947 suns prompted the new partnership.

Then, only weeks ago, the CPV module manufacturer claimed a record module efficiency of 36%, using Spectrolab's 40% efficiency cells, beating its previous record by more than one percent and demonstrating an unprecedented cell to module conversion efficiency of more than than 90%.

At a time when industry players could be forgiven for thinking the California-based business is on its way out, Amonix looks set to prove otherwise. And, as founder and chief technology officer, Vahan Garboushian, told Compound Semiconductor, expect more, and soon.

“[With Solar Junction] we have demonstrated a 44% cell efficiency in the laboratory, but we are also working on the real world," he says. “In the next six months we would like to produce a production cell with an efficiency of 42%. We will put this into one of our modules, resulting in a much higher efficiency, maybe in the 37 to 38% range."

Indeed, such an increase in efficiency would go some way to reducing the CPV costs, which Amonix desperately needs to do if it is to compete with silicon solar cell systems.

As Garboushian highlights: “Any increase in efficiency is directly translated to the cost of the overall system in a disproportionate way. A one percent increase in efficiency will give you a much bigger benefit in terms of the cost."

But the business is also looking at other ways to cut the costs of its modules, starting with the CPV supply chain, which Garboushian describes as “disorganised".

“We've bought millions of cells from SpectroLab and are qualified with other vendors at lower volumes and buy lenses from all the manufacturers. In the silicon market five year contracts would have been awarded to lower the costs here; this hasn't happened yet in the CPV industry," he says. “But it's about to happen and that's something we are working on. We've been negotiating a lot of long-term contracts with a lot of companies."

Garboushian is also confident that the industry shift from four inch to six inch GaAs wafers will drive costs down. As he points out, SpectroLabs has just converted to six inch wafers. “Others are doing this and will get much more efficient runs as as utilisation of machinery gets better," he adds.

But crucially, the company has also made significant changes to the way it operates. With manufacturing in the US scaled back, the business is looking to the East.

“Right now we are heavily involved with opening manufacturing in the MENA region and are developing joint ventures in China," says Garboushian.

As well as these developments, the company also intends to deliver a new, cheaper version of the Amonix 7700 utility-scale CPV solar power system by the end of the year. Garboushian will not be drawn on details but says: “The new product will reduce cost substantially, we call it the 8700 system. The architecture is the same as the 7700 but we have spent the last year and a half doing everything possible to reduce cost so we can make money from it."

“This will be introduced by the end of this year and will be in manufacturing next year," he adds.

The current cost of an Amonix CPV module comes in at around $2.9/W while the price of other solar PV technologies is dropping below $1.9/W. However, with the new module, Garboushian is aiming for a cost of around $2/W.

“We are trying to compete with the rest of the world," he says. “We're establishing manufacturing, we're looking into a very very fast ramp up. Come 2015, we will have our lowest levelised cost of electricity and several hundred MW of capacity."

Vahan Garboushian: The CTO asserts Amonix is looking to the Middle East and North Africa region for manufacturing.

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