Silicon Valley Solar

Silicon Valley Solar, or SV Solar, is a pretty good name for a company located in the heart of Northern California’s Silicon Valley, where the latest generation of silicon fueled booms is taking shape in the form of photovoltaic cells being designed and manufactured at dozens if not hundreds of companies, from start-ups to Fortune 500 stalwarts.

SV Solar
SV Solar’s “SolX2″
Flat Plate PV Concentrator
Photo: SV Solar

Today I had the chance to talk for a while with Dave Shannahan, President and Chief Operating Officer of SV Solar. The technology they are pursuing is known as “low level concentrators” which is an interesting hybrid design that combines the simplicity of a stationary solar panel with the higher efficiency of a concentrating panel.

Solar concentrators take many forms – thermal concentrators, for example, heat a transfer fluid which in turn drives a turbine to generate electricity. But photovoltaic concentrators have two basic designs, high level and low level. The high level concentrators put a small amount of photovoltaic material into a mobile array that moves to track the sun across the sky each day, in order to maximize the amount of sunlight that hits the concentrator. Combining this tracking function with magnifying glasses between the sun and the photovoltaic material allows high level concentrators to deliver as much as 300x as much sunlight to the photovoltaic surface compared to a standard flat, stationary photovoltaic panel.

Low level concentrators, by contrast, are stationary, and can be housed in a panel only 2-3″ thick, the same as a conventional photovoltaic panel. But by using prisms and magnifying lenses, a low level concentrator can nonetheless deliver up to 10x the sunlight that a standard photovoltaic panel might receive. Because they are stationary, they are less expensive than the high level concentrators, because they use less silicon, they are less expensive than standard stationary solar arrays.

“The cost of a photovoltaic panel is 70% silicon,” said Shannahan, “we are able to deliver the same amount of electricity with less than half as much photovoltaic silicon.” The obvious follow-up question, of course, is how much do the prisms and lenses add to the cost. Shannahan was not able to disclose this, but expressed confidence that the added costs are nowhere near the amount of costs saved by requiring so much less silicon.

SV Solar was founded only one year ago, and they intend to begin commercial production – about 10 megawatts – in 2008. These “flat plate PV concentrators,” as they are known, may indeed find a cost-effective niche in the wide open photovoltaic industry where worldwide production is forecast to literally double each year well into the foreseeable future.

For more on photovoltaics – reference: < href="/fuels/indias-thin-film-photovoltaics.html"a title="India's Photovoltaics">India’s Photovoltaics, China’s Photovoltaics, Photovoltaic Desalinization, Windmills vs. Photovoltaics, Crystaline Photovoltaics, Thin Film vs. Silicon Ingots, and The Photovoltaic Revolution.

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