The CPV Market

Sometimes technologies are developed that few people buy. For decades, CPV appeared to be one of those technologies with no market and no customers. Of some 1,500 megawatts (MW) of PV sold throughout the world in 2005, less than 1 MW were CPV systems. Although most of the world's PV installations in 2005 were on rooftops, CPV systems had not been developed for roofs. As the photos show, typical CPV systems are large and more suitable for a utility customer, although several

Fig. 1. Several 35-kilowatt (kW) CPV systems built by Amonix in Torrance, California, are installed at an Arizona Public Service power plant. The system uses Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight. The pickup truck in the shade gives an idea of size.

Fig. 2. Several 25-kW CPV systems built by Solar Systems in Hawthorn, Australia, and installed on aborigine lands. These systems use mirrors for concentration (see www.solarsystems.com.au). Note the people in the foreground for an idea of size.

Fig. 2. Several 25-kW CPV systems built by Solar Systems in Hawthorn, Australia, and installed on aborigine lands. These systems use mirrors for concentration (see www.solarsystems.com.au). Note the people in the foreground for an idea of size.

companies are now developing smaller CPV products for rooftop markets. CPV systems generate little electricity in areas with cloud cover and, not surprisingly, CPV researchers often live in sunny areas such as the southwestern United States, Israel, Spain, and Australia. It is frequently stated that CPV will be competitive only in these sunny, cloudless regions; however, studies of CPV in less sunny locations suggest that the costs could still be competitive with those of other PV technologies if the solar cell efficiencies are high enough.3,4 Nevertheless, CPV systems will certainly penetrate their first markets in these sunny areas—just as the first wind systems were installed in very windy locations before going into less windy sites as their costs declined.

In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research organization for electric utilities, funded CPV projects for utility applications. Both organizations curtailed their CPV studies in the early 1990s as rooftop PV markets started to become dominant. Recently, however, two companies—Amonix in California and Solar Systems in Australia—found customers for their systems shown in Figs. 1 and 2. Amonix now has a 10 MW/year production facility in a joint venture with the developer, Guascor, in Spain. And Solar Systems has been installing hundreds of kilowatts of CPV systems in Australian outback locations where electricity is expensive due to high transport cost of diesel fuel for diesel generators.5 For almost two decades, these two companies have been persistent and innovative in developing several generations of CPV designs leading to their present products.

But more than technology development is needed for a new product to enter energy markets. Market incentives can be critical, especially for new technologies struggling to compete with deeply entrenched conventional energy technologies. The justification for society to provide market incentives can be the benefits of clean air, combating global climate change, providing local energy production and jobs, as well as avoiding the often-ignored problems of mining and waste removal associated with large-scale, conventional energy sources. Further, today's conventional energy sources have a long history of government incentives and support for justifiable reasons. As renewable technologies mature and energy needs increase, governments around the world are finding renewable energy market incentives both justifiable and effective in responding to society's energy concerns.

For PV systems, two main types of market incentives exist. Most government market support for PV in the United States is in the form of money refunded for the purchase and installation of a PV system. Therefore, many dollars per installed PV watt are returned to the customer, who, in turn, hands the money over to companies providing and installing the systems. These rebates were designed for companies and customers wanting to install small flat-plate PV systems for rooftops, which is the principal market for PV systems. Such rebates have been successful in developing PV markets for rooftops in Japan, as well as in the United States. Almost 20 states have some form of rebate for PV systems that can be combined with the new federal rebate approved by the U.S. Congress in 2005.

However, there is an issue with most rebates in that they are paid at or soon after the PV installation, with little or no requirements that the system perform well in 2, 5, or even 20 years from the time of sale. Addressing such a situation, Germany developed an effective feed-in tariff program that pays, at a declining rate, for the energy produced over 20 years. The State of Washington and Spain recently initiated their own programs for feed-in tariffs and California is beginning to move in this direction. These programs express a commitment by the governments to honor energy purchase agreements for as long as 15 or 20 years. The U.S. rebate for PV systems is presently planned to be available for only 2 years. Feed-in tariffs can be very important market incentives, especially ones designed to reward investors for energy production, to reduce their risk in recovering their investment and to promote long-term system reliability. Such tariffs have been instrumental in the market success of wind energy systems, presently totaling about 10 times more electricity generating capacity than the world's PV systems. In the case of CPV systems, feed-in tariffs open a market door for a technology that maximizes electricity production because CPV systems produce more kilowatt-hours (kWh) per kW than flat-plate PV systems. An attractive feed-in tariff provided the economic justification for the recent Amonix-Guascor CPV joint venture in Spain.

As Fig. 3 shows, an advantage exists today for CPV systems using high-efficiency solar cells in terms of energy produced for the same amount of capital invested in different PV systems.6 This is a very simple comparison between total project cost and annual energy produced for the different systems. It avoids the many assumptions required in other techno-economic analyses, such as the levelized cost of electricity. The comparison is made between a typical non-tracking flat-plate PV system, a single-axis-tracking flat-plate system, a CPV system using standard CPV silicon technology, and a CPV system with today's new high-efficiency solar cells. A $1000 investment in a technology using today's high-efficiency CPV cells could yield 450 kWh per year—almost 2-1/2 times more electricity than that generated by $1000 paid for fixed flat-plate PV systems. The increased bang for the buck is huge for investment in CPV technologies using new high-efficiency cells.

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Fig. 3. CPV systems using new high-efficiency solar cells generate considerably more electricity for the same amount of money than do the alternatives.6

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