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SolFocus funding spells good news for III-V solar

13 Sep 2007

SolFocus, the Californian manufacturer of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems, has closed a second venture funding round worth $52 million.

The new funding round will support production ramp of concentrator photovoltaic systems featuring III-V cells, as well as a new European headquarters in the solar energy heartland of Madrid, Spain.

Having just moved out of its original Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) headquarters to nearby Mountain View, SolFocus is about to begin a volume production ramp of CPV systems at its manufacturing site in India, where is has enlisted support from the New Delhi solar cell and module company Moser Baer. The Indian firm has also invested in SolFocus.

SolFocus' VP of corporate marketing Nancy Hartsoch told compoundsemiconductor.net that the production ramp would support the company's first commercial deployment – at the Castilla La Mancha project in Spain.

Heavily backed and promoted by the Spanish government, Castilla La Mancha is an installation earmarked for 3 MW photovoltaic energy generation using CPV systems. Along with SolFocus, it involves the Spanish firm Isofoton and Germany-based Concentrix Solar.

Between them, the three systems companies are using III-V multi-junction cells manufactured by Spectrolab, Emcore and Azur Solar.

Spain has been identified as a key location for CPV because of its clear skies and high incidence of direct sunlight. While some detractors have suggested that the market for CPV will be limited to only a few such suitable geographies, Hartsoch believes that as much as a third of global solar energy could eventually be produced using CPV.

"We've found that it can be economical as far north as San Francisco," she said.

While describing SolFocus and other CPV companies as "approaching commercialization" at the moment, Hartsoch acknowledges that the next year could me make or break for the technology.

That's because CPV systems at installations such as Castilla La Mancha will need to prove that they can deliver in real-world conditions while maintaining highly efficient energy conversion.

As a result, says Hartsoch, SolFocus has been investing heavily in cell and system reliability and lifetime testing. She says that with a number of other installations primed to accept CPV systems after the initial Castilla La Mancha program is completed, 2008 will see SolFocus ramp up production, particularly towards the end of the year. "We're talking about quite a few megawatts [in 2008]," revealed Hartsoch.

This volume production ramp will be crucial to push down the cost of the technology to acceptable levels. Hartsoch believes that SolFocus' CPV systems will become cost-competitive with conventional photovoltaics by the end of 2008, and could even challenge oil and gas energy production within a few short years.

CHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.Mad City Labs, Inc.Hyperion OpticsSPECTROGON ABBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationIridian Spectral TechnologiesUniverse Kogaku America Inc.
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