Checking in on CPV by-the-numbers

In 2013, 37 GW of solar was installed, of which 95% was the exact same product from a host of companies, c-Si solar panels. Its no wonder margins for such product are razor thin on the best of days, are zero on the normal days and actually losing money on the worst of days. There is incredibly small amounts of differentiation from company to company, from product to product. All of the panels look and perform virtually the same, so manufacturers are left to squeeze the economies-of-scale equation as hard they can and go to war with each other on price.

Now imagine there is another approach to solar that is competitive on price vs energy generation today at 1/300th the volume of c-Si production (in other words, has not experienced all that economies-of-scale has to offer), but offers true product differentiation on many levels. For example, the ability to get up to 22% more energy vs single-axis tracking c-Si from or 42% more energy vs fixed tilt c-Si from a given area of land (as shown by a 2013 NREL report). Or, the ability to lose only 30% of the efficiency loss suffered by c-Si at high temperatures. Or, the ability to interact with only 8 sqft of land for 70 KW DC-PTC of power, greatly reducing land impact. Or the ability to upgrade key components such as solar cells and optics since the solar cells used are increasing at an efficiency of 1% absolute / yr. Or a far lower annual degradation rate, with no high-first-year rate experienced by many c-Si panels.

Well, the good news is you don’t have to imagine this, because this other approach is already here. This other approach is CPV. And to continue with the numbers, over 200 MW of CPV have been installed to date, with 100 MW coming online in 2014 alone and a lot more CPV already in the pipeline. So as the curious by-the-numbers observer thinks quietly about where the real growth opportunities lie in the solar market, CPV clearly deserves close examination, and perhaps a whole lot more!

~Adam

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