SolFocus announced today it has installed a 16.8-kilowatt concentrated photovoltaic solar system in Juarez, Mexico.
The system is at the offices of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC), which fosters environmental infrastructure projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. It includes two solar arrays that will produce 43 megawatt-hours per year, providing about one-third of the BECC’s office building’s energy needs. This installation marks the first concentrated solar installation in the Northern Mexico border region, according to the company.
Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar systems like the ones SolFocus, Amonix and Soliant make differ from traditional photovoltaic panel systems. CPV systems consist of numerous mirrors that magnify and concentrate sunlight. SolFocus uses reflective optics that concentrate sunlight 650 times onto super-efficient solar scales, and is the biggest CPV maker in the world.
CPV systems boast an efficiency rate of 25 percent, well above the 15 percent range for traditional flat plate — it’s even lower for thin-film solar, which ranges from 8 to 11 percent. They also produce more energy for the same or less amount of silicon as other solar options.
However, these large systems involve a lot of equipment (trackers that follow the sun’s movement across the sky, reflectors and the like) and are considered to be untested compared to traditional solar panels. It’s certainly a niche market at this point. In an interview with VentureBeat earlier this month, Nancy Hartsoch, SolFocus vice president of marketing and sales, said getting financiers to jump on board with CPV is still a challenge, albeit a lessening one as the industry grows.
“The biggest challenge for CPV right now is the issues around bankability,” Hartsoch said. “The value proposition is very, very strong, you just have to make sure the financiers believe the benefit of technology that doesn’t have 25 years of field data.”
Hartsoch added that CPV isn’t for every situation. It’s best suited for utility-scale projects and areas with a lot of direct sunlight — places that catch more rays allow the technology to be competitive with other solar options.
The Juarez project is evidently well-suited to the latter – the sunlight there can provide an annual average of seven to eight kilowatt-hours per square meter each day, according to the company.
And yes, the installation is happening in that Juarez, so-called murder capital of the world and site of the raging, bloody drug war near the U.S.-Mexico border.
SolFocus put a positive spin on the region’s troubled present, saying it could boost future sustainability initiatives in the area.
“With renewable development, the border region could easily become a showcase for sustainable economic development and trade projects,” said Mark Crowley, SolFocus president and CEO in a company statement.