CPV Technology for Beginners
"They all laughed at Christopher Columbus -
When he said the world was round...
They all laughed at Edison recording sound."
- Ira Gershwin, 1937
Fossil fuel supporters vehemently insist that when it comes to using oil, gas and coal, There Is No Alternative (this is known as the TINA position). For
this group, solar and wind power can never meet our nation's insatiable demand for energy.
Current incarnations of solar technology may not be able completely meet our energy, but concentrated photovoltaic, or CPV technology, has the
potential to get us there in the near future.
It's About Leverage
You've heard the old adage about not working harder, but working smarter? You work smarter by taking something - money, mechanical power or
something else - and using that to leverage your position, multiplying it by several degrees. That's the basis of CPV technology.
Concentrated voltaic systems are really quite simple. They concentrate a large amount of sunlight onto a small area, thereby leveraging the sun's
power and increasing energy output using fewer resources - in this case, solar cells.
The problem with solar cells is that they are expensive to produce. By focusing a great deal of sunlight onto a small area, fewer solar cells are
required. This lowers the cost of building and operating a solar energy plant dramatically. The good news is that with the latest CPV technology using
semiconductors, the cost of solar energy production is now close to $1 per watt; this means that before too much longer, concentrated voltaic power
plants will be competitive with traditional coal, gas and oil-fired power plants.
The bad news is there are still some bugs to work out before solar power can completely replace traditional methods of energy generation.
Challenges To Overcome
As you might imagine, CPV technology works only in direct, hard sunlight - diffuse light (such as you experience on a cloudy day) won't cut it. There's
good news here, however, because vast areas of the American Southwes