Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV)

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

CPV systems use lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells, generating more electricity from a smaller area compared to traditional solar panels.

Impact on climate action

Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV) within Utility Scale Solar PV enhances climate action by maximizing solar energy conversion efficiency. By concentrating sunlight onto small, high-efficiency photovoltaic cells, CPV systems optimize energy output and reduce the land footprint of solar installations, accelerating the transition to renewable energy and mitigating carbon emissions.

Underlying
Technology

  • Concentrating Sunlight: CPV systems use lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells. This concentration can increase the amount of electricity generated by the cells.
  • High-Efficiency Solar Cells: CPV systems typically use multi-junction solar cells, which are more expensive than traditional silicon cells but offer significantly higher efficiencies.
  • Tracking Systems: CPV systems require precise tracking systems to ensure that the concentrated sunlight is always focused on the solar cells.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Optics: Innovations in lens and mirror design are improving the efficiency and accuracy of sunlight concentration in CPV systems.
  • High-Performance Multi-Junction Solar Cells: Researchers and startups are developing multi-junction solar cells with even higher efficiencies and lower costs, making CPV more competitive.
  • Micro-CPV Systems: Startups like Semprius are developing micro-CPV systems that use small, high-efficiency solar cells and micro-scale optics to generate electricity. This approach aims to make CPV more cost-effective and scalable for smaller-scale applications.
  • Integrated Cooling Systems: CPV systems can generate significant heat, so efficient cooling systems are essential for maintaining optimal performance. Innovations in cooling technologies are improving the efficiency and reliability of CPV systems.

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Soitec:
    • Technology Enhancement: Soitec specializes in the development and production of semiconductor materials, including concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems. Their CPV technology utilizes high-efficiency solar cells and optical systems to concentrate sunlight onto small photovoltaic cells, maximizing energy conversion efficiency.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Soitec stands out for its expertise in semiconductor materials and its focus on CPV technology for solar energy generation. Their CPV systems offer higher efficiency and energy yield compared to traditional solar photovoltaic panels, making them suitable for utility-scale solar projects in regions with high direct sunlight.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Soitec serves utility-scale solar developers, EPC contractors, and energy providers seeking high-efficiency solar solutions for large-scale solar installations. Their CPV systems are particularly well-suited for utility-scale projects in regions with high Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI), such as desert areas and sunny climates.
  • SunPower:
    • Technology Enhancement: SunPower is a leading solar technology company known for its high-efficiency solar panels, including concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems. Their CPV technology combines high-efficiency solar cells with optical systems to concentrate sunlight onto small photovoltaic cells, increasing energy conversion efficiency and power output.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: SunPower stands out for its commitment to innovation and sustainability in the solar industry. Their CPV systems offer industry-leading efficiency and reliability, making them suitable for a wide range of applications, from utility-scale solar farms to commercial and residential rooftops.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: SunPower serves residential, commercial, and utility-scale customers seeking high-performance solar solutions. Their CPV systems are designed to maximize energy production and minimize the cost of solar electricity for customers across various market segments.
  • Semprius:
    • Technology Enhancement: Semprius specializes in high-concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) technology, which uses advanced optics to concentrate sunlight onto small, highly efficient solar cells. Their HCPV systems achieve high energy conversion efficiency by focusing sunlight onto small photovoltaic cells with precision optics.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Semprius stands out for its innovative approach to HCPV technology and its focus on achieving high energy conversion efficiency in solar energy generation. Their HCPV systems offer a compact and efficient solution for solar power generation, suitable for both utility-scale and distributed solar installations.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Semprius serves utility-scale solar developers, commercial and industrial customers, and research institutions seeking high-efficiency solar solutions. Their HCPV systems are designed to maximize energy yield and reduce the cost of solar electricity for customers in various market segments.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT conducts cutting-edge research on Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV), focusing on novel optical designs, high-efficiency solar cells, and advanced tracking systems to enhance the performance and cost-effectiveness of CPV technology.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing microscale and nanoscale optical elements, such as lenses, mirrors, and light concentrators, that efficiently concentrate sunlight onto small-area solar cells, enabling higher conversion efficiencies and reduced material usage compared to conventional flat-plate PV modules.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in utility-scale solar farms, remote off-grid installations, and concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. For example, they’re researching hybrid CPV-CSP systems that combine high-concentration photovoltaic modules with thermal energy storage to achieve round-the-clock renewable energy generation, developing advanced tracking algorithms that optimize the orientation and focal point of CPV modules based on real-time solar irradiance and atmospheric conditions, and investigating spectral splitting techniques that separate sunlight into different wavelength bands to maximize the efficiency of multi-junction solar cells in CPV systems.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University is actively involved in research on Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV), exploring innovative materials, device architectures, and system integration approaches to improve the efficiency, reliability, and scalability of CPV technology.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves designing CPV modules with tandem solar cells, III-V compound semiconductors, and luminescent concentrators that capture and convert a broader spectrum of sunlight into electricity, enabling higher energy yields and lower levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for CPV systems.
    • End-use Applications: Their work finds applications in desert environments, high-altitude regions, and areas with high direct normal irradiance (DNI). For instance, they’re researching CPV modules with bifacial solar cells and transparent conductive materials that enhance light absorption and collection from both the front and rear sides of the module, developing lightweight and flexible CPV modules that can be integrated into building facades, vehicle roofs, and portable solar chargers, and investigating reliability testing methodologies and accelerated aging protocols to assess the long-term performance and degradation mechanisms of CPV systems under outdoor exposure.
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE):
    • Research Focus: Fraunhofer ISE is a leading research institution in Concentrated Photovoltaics (CPV), conducting applied research, technology development, and pilot-scale demonstrations to advance the commercialization and deployment of CPV technology worldwide.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves optimizing CPV module design, tracking algorithms, and balance-of-system components for different climatic conditions, installation sites, and end-user requirements, with a focus on reducing system costs and increasing energy yield per unit area.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in agricultural irrigation, water desalination, and industrial process heating. For example, they’re researching CPV systems with integrated sun-tracking concentrators and dual-axis tracking systems that maximize energy capture throughout the day and year, developing CPV modules with anti-reflective coatings and self-cleaning surfaces that minimize soiling losses and maintenance requirements, and exploring hybrid CPV-thermal systems that use concentrated sunlight to generate electricity and heat simultaneously for combined power and heat applications.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

CPV systems are being implemented in commercial-scale projects, particularly in sunny regions like the Middle East and North Africa.