Solar Concentrators. Author: Scott Elrod Palo Alto Research Center 3333 Coyote Hill Road Palo Alto, CA

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1 Solar Concentrators Author: Scott Elrod Palo Alto Research Center 3333 Coyote Hill Road Palo Alto, CA While flat-plate silicon photovoltaics dominated the 1GW market for solar generation of electricity in 2004, significant opportunities exist for concentrator systems, including concentrator PV and solar-thermal-electric systems. All of these rely on the same basic principle, in which light is concentrated to a central receiver using mirrors or refractive optics. Concentrators require direct solar illumination, and the optics or mirrors must move during the course of the day to track the sun s trajectory. A key benefit of concentrator devices is in reducing the physical size of the receiver relative to the area in which the light is gathered. The area over which light is gathered for a given type of receiver ranges from a few centimeters for some PV concentrators, to meters or tens of meters for Stirling engines, to hundreds of meters for solar-thermal-electric systems. As detailed below, California is at the forefront of concentrator technology advances and is well positioned to reap the commercial benefits as concentrator approaches gain greater market share. Solar-Thermal-Electric Utility-scale demonstrations of solar-thermal-electric systems were made in California from Shown in Figure 1 is the Solar One project which was conducted jointly by DOE, a group of utilities led by Southern California Edison, and the Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA. Located in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California, the system concentrated light from 1800 moving mirrors (heliostats) onto a tower 1. The collected energy was used to generate steam and power a turbine. At the time, the system generated an impressive 10MW of power. A second generation was built on the same site in which the heat transfer material was molten salt instead of steam. Both of these were operated as demonstration projects and then decommissioned.

2 Figure 1: Solar One Central Receiver, Barstow, CA, 1988 Figure 2: Parabolic Trough Generating Station at Kramer Junction, CA Still operating today is a collection of 9 solar-thermal-electric generating system (SEGS) plants that were built by the Luz Corporation using a parabolic trough approach (shown in Figure 2) at Kramer Junction and Harper Valley, CA1. These plants use parabolic reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto a pipe through which oil is flowed. The heated oil is used to generate steam from water, which drives a conventional turbine generator. The SEGS plants have been operating reliably since 1985.Altogether, they generate an impressive 354 MW of power, and although no new capacity has been added since 1990, they had produced more solar kilowatt-hours than the total installed capacity of PV in the US by the end of Estimates made for NREL suggest that levelized energy costs of 10 to 12.6 /kwh can be achieved today for solar-thermal-electric tower/trough approaches, and by 2020 with economies of scale and technological advances, these would fall to 3.5 to 6.2 /kwh 2. A 64 MW solar trough plant is currently being built by Solargenix near Boulder City, NV3.

3 Stirling Engines A less well-known but potentially important technology uses thermal energy from concentrated sunlight to drive a Stirling heat engine to generate power. Dish concentrators using the Stirling technology are shown in Figure 3. Edison International and San Diego Gas and Electric have both signed power purchase agreements under which Stirling Energy Systems will construct and operate two very large solar generating (> 300MW) stations in Southern California 4. When completed, these will be the largest solar generating stations in the world. Figure 3: Stirling Energy Systems dish of the type that would be used for two >300MW installations in Southern California Concentrator PV Historically, concentrator PV systems have had limited success, suffering from reliability issues, and gaining less than 1% of the market for solar electric generation. However, since 1995, a number of installations on the kw scale have provided substantial data to build confidence in the technology. With concentrator PV systems projected to achieve $3/watt in the next few years 5, the time is now ripe for significant growth, and California is well positioned to lead both in technology innovation and in commercial applications. Concentrator PV relies on gathering light over some area, and then focusing it down onto a photovoltaic cell. Since the net area density of the photovoltaic material is much smaller than for flat-plate PV, it is possible to use much higher efficiency (and more costly) cells. The highest efficiency cells are multi-junction III-V devices fabricated by Boeing-Spectrolab Inc. in Sylmar, Ca. Their current 3-junction cells have efficiencies up to 39.0% at 236 suns, as reported at the European photovoltaic conference in Barcelona, Spain. One advantage of concentrator systems is that continued technology

4 advances are expected for multi-junction cells, with increases to 4 and 5 junctions leading to efficiencies perhaps exceeding 50%. The largest installations of concentrator PV have been achieved by Amonix, Inc. of Torrance, CA. Amonix uses Fresnel lenses to focus light onto a high performance silicon solar cell, with efficiencies under concentrated sunlight of 26.5%. The Amonix devices are large, pole-mounted structures with total power output of 25 kw. Shown in Figure 4 is a system consisting of 4 Amonix concentrator modules (100 kw total) installed by Arizona Public Service in Tempe, Arizona. Figure 4: Amonix concentrator arrays installed by Arizona Public Service in Tempe, AZ Another manufacturer of high performance silicon cells that could be used in such concentrator designs is SunPower Corporation, a subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor, located in Sunnyvale, CA. SunPower boasts the highest efficiency commercial devices (21.5%) at 1 sun, and the efficiency is higher under concentration. In addition to the large, pole-mounted systems aimed at field installations, a number of companies are now building smaller concentrator devices that may be suitable for commercial rooftops, and possibly even residential settings. Figure 5 shows a concentrator design that is the result of a collaboration between H2GO/Solfocus of Saratoga, CA, and the University of California at Merced 6. The device uses tailored imaging with a primary and secondary mirror, and a tapered glass rod to achieve a net flux concentration of 500 suns. The hexagon devices can be tiled together to make panels on the order of 1-2 meters in size. A second generation device, based on a collaboration between H2GO/Solfocus and the Palo Alto Research Center Inc. (Palo Alto, CA) uses a very thin solid optic to provide the primary and secondary reflective surfaces. The micro-concentrators will be molded into a single glass sheet, and the high efficiency Spectrolab cells (approximately 1 mm in size) will be put down on the back of the glass using high speed pick-and-place equipment. Because of their thin construction and low weight, these devices will be suitable for commercial rooftop installation.

5 Figure 5: 1 st generation concentrator design of H2GO and UC Merced Another approach to small concentrator systems has been taken by Energy Innovations Incorporated of Pasadena, CA. Shown in Figure 6 is their Sunflower 250 TM device, which uses an elegant mechanical mechanism to position an array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a central receiver. Energy Innovations has developed this 5 x 5 device to be suitable for rooftop installation. Figure 6: Sunflower 250 TM design of Energy Innovations 1 NREL/DOE Report: DOE/GO , FS 128, March, Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology Cost and Performance Forecasts, NREL Report SR , October, Herb Hayden of Arizona Public Service (APS), quoted in NREL News Release detailing the recent International Conference on Solar Concentrators for the Generation of Electricity or Hydrogen, held in Scottsdale, AZ (May 1-5, 2005)

6 6 Realization of high-flux, compact, passively cooled commercial photovoltaic prototypes, D. Feuermann, J. M. Gordon, S. Horne, G. Conley and R. Winston, International Conference on Solar Concentrators for the Generation of Electricity or Hydrogen, held in Scottsdale, AZ (May 1-5, 2005)

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