Sunday, May 4, 2008

SUNRGI and the Promise of 5 cents/kwh Solar Power

Utility-scale solar power continues to make the news. The U.S. Department of Energy has announced a US$60 million, five-year R&D grant package for the development of concentrated solar power. In the past few weeks, the likes of SkyFuel, eSolar, Infinia and Stirling Energy Systems have all received some high profile financing. Earth2Tech also has two great articles--one on the 11 leading players in solar thermal seeking to operate in the southwest USA, and another on 8 obstacles facing the industry.

But amidst the solar storm of news, one potentially game-changing company caught my attention--SUNRGI, a Reno, Nevada company that says it is 12 to 15 months away from commercializing large scale solar power at 5 cents per Kwh, which make it easily competitive with coal.

So game-changing, in fact, that Sunrgi has created its own category of technology that it dubs Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics (XCPV). As the name implies, it combines the best of both concentrated solar power technology and photovoltaics, a technology combination shared by the likes of SolFocus and Energy Innovations. The likes of eSolar, Infinia and Sterling Systems are solar thermal systems and do not have the PV component, but instead rely on the concentrated heat to heat a liquid that is then used to heat water to run conventional electricity steam turbines.

Here's how SUNRGI claims it can achieve the goals that that Google shares:

1. The XCPV system can concentrate sunlight more than 1,600 times its normal intensity. According to Greentech Media, this is almost twice what Energy Innovations is able to achieve (823 times), and more than three times what Soliant can achive (500 times).

2. This extreme concentration reduces the amount of costly solar cell material needed to generate any given amount of electricity.

3. It boasts a PV efficiency of 37.5% (compared to about 20% of the top-performing PV cells without concentration, or 7 to 9% of most thin-film technologies). The company website suggests it is using PV technology developed from Boeing's spectrolab, and another blog source suggests that it is a triple-junction PV cell.

4. Its proprietary COOLMOVE heat transport technology swiftly prevents this undesirable heat buildup to that the PV cells are actually kept cooler than their nominal operating temperature, thus extending their useful life.

5. The XCPV system tracks the sun as it moves across the sky from sunrise to sunset. The company claims that in any given day, its tracking system "will capture and convert 175% more sunlight than a fixed system at the same advertised peak power rating."

Furthermore, the XCPV system touts its modular design as key feature that allows for distribution over multiple sub-stations over suitable pieces of land, and its upgradeability, which allows for its systems to take advantage of advances in technology (although few details are provided as to how upgrading of XCPV modules actually work).

If SUNRGI is truly able to deliver this product in the next year or so that it promises to, the solar industry will blow past the cautiously optimistic expectations that this Platts article has for the industry.

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