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Soitec signs 150MW concentrated PV deal

23 Oct 2014

France-based developer expecting to deploy more than 80,000 concentrated solar modules in California.

Soitec Solar Development, a subsidiary of the French semiconductor materials company Soitec specializing in concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) systems, is set to deploy more than 80,000 CPV modules following a new sales agreement.

It says that one of the largest providers of solar energy services in North America has agreed to buy 150 MW worth of CPV-generated AC power.

Although construction of the project remains subject to what Soitec describes as “certain conditions”, the company says that the contract represents a "major milestone" and is confident that it will lead to 83,400 of its CPV modules being deployed in California.

Those modules will be provided by Soitec’s large CPV factory in San Diego, which has been under-utilized while the still-nascent CPV market has struggled to compete against conventional large-scale solar systems based on silicon or thin-film panels.

However, large parts of southern California have the kind of hot, sunny climate that best suits CPV technology and the latest deal should provide a major boost for Soitec, which has persevered with CPV despite recording some major financial losses in recent years.

CEO Andre-Jacques Auberton-Herve said in a company release: “Entering into this sales agreement is a major step for Soitec. It demonstrates the interest generated by our CPV technology in the US market. This is also an important milestone in executing Soitec's strategic plan as this agreement will provide significant demand to our US solar manufacturing operation.”

CPV traction at last?
Soitec had originally announced agreements to provide its CPV systems – based on technology first developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) – to southern California back in 2011, something that prompted it to construct a 200 MW capacity CPV factory on the outskirts of San Diego.

But in the meantime CPV has struggled to compete with conventional solar and former competitors like Amonix and SolFocus, as well as several other lesser-known exponents, have run into serious financial difficulties.

With the price of silicon-based solar panels no longer in freefall, CPV may start to look like a more attractive option in the climatic regions to which it is best suited, and Soitec has found demand for the technology in South Africa, Portugal and close to the Gobi desert in China.

In its financial results earlier this week, Soitec reported CPV-related sales of €11.2 million in the latest quarter as it completed deliveries to the 44 MW South African facility in Touwsrivier.

The company is still running at a hefty operating loss (€75 million over the past six months), but is hopeful that the impending ramp in production at its San Diego facility will help push it back towards breakeven.

In addition, the Touwsrivier power plant should be fully commissioned by the end of next month – something that should trigger a payment of up to €33 million that was originally expected in August 2014.

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