Ask the Expert: What Happened to High Concentration Photovoltaic Technology?

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What Happened to High Concentration Photovoltaic Technology?

Jim Paull for Zondits, May 6, 2015

Answer: Earlier this year the French company Soitec announced that it was giving up its high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) business. Although there will always be smaller players that come and go in the industry, Soitec’s departure from the space marks the end of commercial viability of what was once considered a promising solar technology.

HCPV had seemed to be a sexy, high-technology approach to solar; it boasted the highest efficiencies in the industry, more than twice that of conventional solar modules. And with solar concentrations of 500:1 or more, it only required a tiny amount of photovoltaic material to produce a large amount of power.

So, then, what happened?

In 2008‒2009 there was a precipitous drop in conventional module prices, occasioned by the entry of Chinese manufacturers into the market. While HCPV only uses a small amount of PV material, the concentrator itself is not inexpensive, as it needs to precisely track the sun and withstand extremes in temperature. The higher efficiency of HCPV was not enough to match the lower costs of conventional modules.

Moreover, HCPV only can concentrate the direct rays of the sun, and so it misses out completely on diffuse radiation, which can account for as much as 35% of overall sunlight. Without a significant cost advantage and the ability to harvest diffuse light, HCPV has lost any competitive advantage it might have had.

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