NREL just announced a huge breakthrough in making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuels as they unveiled the Amonix 7700 Concentrated Photovoltaic or CPV Generator. We cover a lot of solar technologies at Inhabitat, but what makes this system so special is the technology behind it – Amonix has basically taken space grade solar cells and put them under a lens here on earth. The resulting system tracks the sun and produces nearly double the power of traditional solar electric arrays at utility-scale installations. The technology has the added benefit being the least land-intensive form of solar power in the world.
CPV solar-electric cells use a complex triple junction technology based on gallium cells. They have long been used in space for their robustness — while traditional silicon-based cells wither in the heat, this technology is nearly immune to high temperatures, so sunlight can be concentrated on the cells to dramatically improve their efficiency — up to 42% in the lab. The 7700 CPV uses low-cost Fresnel lenses to increase solar density on the cells by 500 times. Tiny cells convert that concentrated energy at a total of 26% efficiency — or twice that of typical solar panels in the field.
Each 10kW module is made from 36 sets of lenses and receiver plates that house the multi-junction solar cells. The 10 x 49 foot panel is set on a two-axis tracking mount which add up to 50% power production. The combination of technologies co-developed with NREL and Amonix using DOE grants has resulted in the most cost-efficient solar technology in the world that also uses the least amount of land.
The new system makes the installation of solar fields much less disruptive. As each panel is mounted on a pole, grading is not often needed. The huge panels are also much easier to transport and install, which greatly simplifies logistics. The overall installed costs are one-half to one-third the price of amorphous silicon and thin film utility-scale solar array installations.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Solar technologies, while promising, are more expensive and use much more land that traditional fossil fuel energy. The Amonix CPV system combines new tech with a lower-impact design thanks to a government and private partnership.