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What is Concentrator photovoltaics (CPV)?

Concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) or concentration photovoltaics is a photovoltaic (PV) technology that produces electricity from sunlight.

For generating electricity CPV uses lenses or curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, multi-junction (MJ), and highly efficient solar cells. Also, CPV systems sometimes use solar trackers and a cooling system for increasing efficiency. 

Originally multi-junction solar cells were designed for applying in the space science, they are still used for that purpose. During the early 2000’s scientists began applying multi-junction solar cells for terrestrial concentrator solar applications.

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The concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) market has beenlong on promise and short on results.  But there have been a few hopeful signs of late.

Kleiner Perkins saw fit to invest $130 million into CPV systems vendor Amonix.  And shortly after that fund raise, Cogentrix announced a 30 megawatt project with Amonix.  That’s easily the largest CPV project in the history of CPV.

SolFocus recently said that it would have 10 megawatts in the ground by the end of the year.

Concentrix Solar, German-based CPV vendor, funded by Good Energies and recently purchased by Soitec, just announced the opening of a U.S. office and a CEClisting.

And today we saw JDSU, the optical networking, laser and coatings expert, announce that theywere entering the CPV market as a chip supplier.  The firm has a marketcapitalization of $2.1 billion.

One of the chicken-and-eggproblems that has plagued CPV is the cost and supply of thetriple-junction compound semiconductor solar cell that performs theactual photovoltaic conversion.  The low-volume supply chain for thesechips has depended on somewhat dysfunctional suppliers Emcore and Spectrolab.   Emcore has a history of losing money, questionable management and flirting with entering the CPV system business.  Spectrolab makes a quality product but both of these firms, with a culture of supplyingthe space and satellite market, have found the transition to commercialmanufacturing a bit of a cultural stretch.

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