CSP — concentrated solar power — is producing electricity for supply to the grid in many places around the world. There have been / are many efforts seeking to bring CSP into the retail marketplace. (Such as SunCube.) Soliant Energy looks near to achieving this — not with using CSP to boil water to generate steam, but CSP to focus more light on PV cells to increase the actual electrical output per each PV element, thus reducing overall costs.
There are a variety of paths that Soliant has pursued that reduces cost. One of which is reduced pv material (about 90 percent less silicon). Another is that the construction, in strips (the reflective troughs) enables the modules to be built larger. (And, one would have to think, modularly as well.) In terms of efficiency, Soliant has developed a tracking system that enables more uniform power production throughout sunlight hours. All told, about the same electricity output as ‘traditional pv’ but at a fraction of the cost per kilowatt of capacity.
Just two days ago in a visit to Soliant, Congressman Adam Schiff announced his support for HR550, which will extend federal tax credits for solar power though 2017. This 10-year extension (and expansion) of solar tax credits will provide certainty for business planning — a critical element of helping the market deliver solutions for our energy challenges.
In following these incentives, Soliant will focus first on the commercial rooftop space. (Perhaps through companies, like MMA Renewable Ventures, that specialize in putting solar on commercial rooftops and selling the electricity to the building owners.)
But, Soliant’s approach offers the potential for Solar Power at Half the Cost according to its CEO, Brad Hines. Hines states that their second-generation will cut prices in half again and he also suggests that, by 2010, Soliant will have an even more advanced system on the market.
Now, as noted in Technology Review, this isn’t a perfect solution:
As a solar concentrating system, this design has a few drawbacks. Because the troughs are mounted close together, they shade each other during parts of the day, decreasing the total amount of electricity produced. They can also only track from side to side, which makes it impossible for them to follow exactly the arc of the sun across the sky.
In other words, while this first generation will be on the market and going on roofs this fall, there are improvements other than price to come in the next generations.
This is potentially a quite exciting development … potentially.
What is truly exciting, however, is the range of ‘breakthrough’ possibilities in a wide range of renewable energy products. And, these are starting to hit the marketplace with minor players like Wal-Mart and Kohl’s recently announcing major solar PV purchases. And, well, if Soliant’s Heliotube lives up to its promise, there are an awful lot of department store, warehouse, apartment and office buidling, and other flat roofs ready to be covered with affordable solar electricity systems.