America’s solar manufacturing base is gaining ground as the world’s largest concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) manufacturing facility prepares to opens its doors.
Global manufacturer Soitec Solar said recently it will open its first large-scale CPV module manufacturing facility in San Diego. The project — supported by a $25 million SUNPATH award from the Energy Department — is expected to support about 450 direct manufacturing jobs and thousands more throughout the solar supply chain.
Soitec is a strong example of the type of solar energy company backed by SUNPATH, which stands for “Scaling Up Nascent PV AT Home.” Part of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, SUNPATH aims to strengthen innovative domestic manufacturing and speed the transition from initial ramp-up to high-volume production.
In 2011, SUNPATH targeted high-tech companies with investments to help speed cost reductions and commercialization of innovative solar technologies. In the case of Soitec, the Department’s backing complemented more than $115 million in private investment to accelerate the San Diego plant’s construction. The company builds CPV modules that use Fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight 500 times and focus it onto small, highly efficient multi-junction solar cells. CPV modules have achieved record sunlight-to-electricity conversion yields of over 30 percent. While innovative, the technology is also proven. Soitec CPV systems using two-axis sun-tracking have already been built in more than 10 countries and have been operating for five years.
In California, Soitec will be developing a new, larger module to reduce installation costs while implementing improved system optics to further increase the efficiency levels of the solar panels. Modules from the plant will supply more than 300 megawatts of electricity to California consumers. The company uses its Concentrix technology, which is designed for high-capacity industrial-scale solar power plants. Soitec modules will supply solar power plants in the Southwest, helping to build the CPV market in the United States.
With this important step forward, Soitec and other SUNPATH awardees, are pointing the way for the nation to reclaim its competitive edge in solar energy.