The high concentrating PV (HCPV) company, GreenVolts, is officially selling its assets after its primary investor, ABB, pulled support from the startup. GreenVolts outsourced its manufacturing to contractors such as Foxconn, so assets up for sale will largely be intellectual property.
GreenVolts obtained exactly what many small solar manufacturers are looking for: a large, well-positioned, strategic investor to add bankability and take responsibility for driving growth. Semprius found that in Seimens, and Miasolé had been looking for a buyer and recently closed with Hanergy. While the advantages of this gaining significant support from a strategic investor are numerous, there is also an inherent risk, as became apparent with GreenVolts and ABB. If the investor proves fickle and decides to cut losses, the solar company will not be able to survive. Strategic investors that invest in solar need to be willing to take a short-term loss for long-term gain.
For the broader HCPV industry, GreenVolts’ failure adds to concern surrounding the industry that has been growing since Amonix shut down its Las Vegas manufacturing facility (client registration required). We expect the situation to get worse before it gets better, but our favorites – Soitec, SolFocus, and Suncore as outlined in the Lux Research report, “Putting High-Concentrating Photovoltaics into Focus” (client registration required) – are still moving forward on capacity and installation targets, and can easily satisfy our 700 MW HCPV demand forecast in 2017.
As hype for HCPV dwindles, companies are starting to look into low concentrating PV (LCPV) as an intermediate technology between expensive, highly efficiency HCPV and cheap, less efficient flat panel PV. SunPower’s C7 product aims to do just that with reflectors that concentrate sunlight 7X onto SunPower’s interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells with 22.8% cell efficiency under 7X concentration. The company has an agreement with Tucson Electric Power to install 6 MW of the LCPV product. Low concentration allows for a broader range of reflector options as long as they are cheap and limit optical losses. SunPower’s C7 system uses parabolic trough glass mirrors, but startups like TenKsolar and Absolicon use 3M reflector films, Solaria uses patterned glass, and Cool Earth Solar uses a proprietary refractive film co-developed with Avery Dennison.
Monocrystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells used in LCPV modules are many times cheaper on a per area basis than multijunction cells used in HCPV modules; however, c-Si cells are more susceptible to heat and UV degradation, and benefits from increased encapsulant transparency will multiply under concentration, which can translate to interesting opportunities for innovative material suppliers. Material and chemical companies may want to look to LCPV as a potential new market for innovative optical or encapsulation materials.