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Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) is a photovoltaic technology that generates electricity from sunlight. Contrary to conventional photovoltaic systems, it uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, but highly efficient, multi-junction (MJ) solar cells. Despite the need for additional concentrating optics, and the usage of more expensive MJ-cells, CPV systems, and especially High concentrating photovoltaic (HCPV) systems, have the potential to become competitive in the near future. They possess the highest efficiency of all existing PV technologies, and a smaller photovoltaic array also reduces the balance of system costs. CPV systems often use solar trackers and sometimes a cooling system to further increase their efficiency. They are currently more expensive and far less common than conventional PV systems. However, ongoing research and development is rapidly improving their competitiveness.
CPV also competes with concentrated solar thermal. CPV turns the sun's radiation directly into electricity, while solar thermal uses the heat from the sun's radiation to make steam, which turns turbines, which then produce electricity. Solar thermal is far more common than CPV, although the two technologies are sometimes combined.
Research into concentrator photovoltaics has taken place since the 1970s. Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico was the site for most of the early work, with the first modern photovoltaic concentrating system produced there late in the decade. Their first system was a linear-trough concentrator system that used a point focus acrylic Fresnel lens focusing on water-cooled silicon cells and two axis tracking. Ramón Areces' system, also developed in the late 1970s, used hybrid silicone-glass Fresnel lenses, while cooling of silicon cells was achieved with a passive heat sink.
CPV systems operate most efficiently in concentrated sunlight, as long as the solar cell is kept cool through use of heat sinks. Diffuse light, which occurs in cloudy and overcast conditions, cannot be concentrated. To reach their maximum efficiency, CPV systems must be located in areas that receive plentiful direct sunlight.
The design of photovoltaic concentrators introduces a very specific optical design problem, with features that makes it different from any other optical design. It has to be efficient, suitable for mass production, capable of high concentration, insensitive to manufacturing and mounting inaccuracies, and capable of providing uniform illumination of the cell. All these reasons make nonimaging optics the most suitable for CPV.
All CPV systems have a concentrating optic and a solar cell. Except for very low concentrations, active solar tracking is also necessary. Low concentration systems often have a simple booster reflector, which can increase solar electric output by over 30% from that of non-concentrator PV systems.
Semiconductor properties allow solar cells to operate more efficiently in concentrated light, as long as the cell Junction temperature is kept cool by suitable heat sinks. Efficiency of multijunction photovoltaic cells developed in research is upward of 44% today, with the potential to approach 50% in the coming years.
Also crucial to the efficiency (and cost) of a CPV system is the concentrating optic since it collects and concentrates sunlight onto the solar cell. For a given concentration, nonimaging optics combine the widest possible acceptance angles with high efficiency and, therefore, are the most appropriate for use in solar concentration. For very low concentrations, the wide acceptance angles of nonimaging optics avoid the need for active solar tracking. For medium and high concentrations, a wide acceptance angle can be seen as a measure of how tolerant the optic is to imperfections in the whole system. It is vital to start with a wide acceptance angle since it must be able to accommodate tracking errors, movements of the system due to wind, imperfectly manufactured optics, imperfectly assembled components, finite stiffness of the supporting structure or its deformation due to aging, among other factors. All of these reduce the initial acceptance angle and, after they are all factored in, the system must still be able to capture the finite angular aperture of sunlight.
Grid parity refers to the cost of solar/wind watts produced compared to watts available from the electrical utility grid. Grid parity is achieved when renewable energy watts are monetarily equal to watts produced on the grid (from coal, hydro, etc.).
Compared to conventional flat panel solar cells, CPV might be advantageous because the solar collector is less expensive than an equivalent area of solar cells. However CPV hardware (solar collector and tracker) is nearing US$1 per watt, whereas silicon flat panels that are commonly sold are now below $1 per watt (not including any associated power systems or installation charges).
CPV systems are categorized according to the amount of their solar concentration, measured in "suns" (the square of the magnification).
Low concentration PV (LCPV)
Low concentration PV are systems with a solar concentration of 2-100 suns. For economic reasons, conventional or modified silicon solar cells are typically used, and, at these concentrations, the heat flux is low enough that the cells do not need to be actively cooled. The laws of optics dictate that a solar collector with a low concentration ratio can have a high acceptance angle and thus in some instances does not require active solar tracking.
Medium concentration PV
From concentrations of 100 to 300 suns, the CPV systems require two-axes solar tracking and cooling (whether passive or active), which makes them more complex.
High concentration photovoltaics (HCPV)
High concentration photovoltaics (HCPV) systems employ concentrating optics consisting of dish reflectors or fresnel lenses that concentrate sunlight to intensities of 1000 suns or more. The solar cells require high-capacity heat sinks to prevent thermal destruction and to manage temperature related electrical performance and life expectancy losses. To further exacerbate the concentrated cooling design, the heat sink must be passive, otherwise the power required for active cooling will reduce the overall efficiency and economy. Multijunction solar cells are currently favored over single junction cells, as they are more efficient and have a lower temperature coefficient (less loss in efficiency with an increase in temperature). The efficiency of both cell types rises with increased concentration; multijunction efficiency rises faster . Multijunction solar cells, originally designed for non-concentrating space-based satellites, have been re-designed due to the high-current density encountered with CPV (typically 8 A/cm2 at 500 suns). Though the cost of multijunction solar cells is roughly 100 times that of silicon cells of the same area, the small cell area employed makes the relative costs of cells in each system comparable and the system economics favor the multijunction cells. Multijunction cell efficiency has now reached 44% in production cells.
The 44% value given above is for a specific set of conditions known as "standard test conditions". These include a specific spectrum, an incident optical power of 850 W/m², and a cell temperature of 25°C. In a concentrating system, the cell will typically operate under conditions of variable spectrum, lower optical power, and higher temperature. The optics needed to concentrate the light have limited efficiency themselves, in the range of 75-90%. Taking these factors into account, a solar module incorporating a 44% multijunction cell might deliver a DC efficiency around 36%. Under similar conditions, a silicon-cell module would deliver an efficiency of less than 18%.
When high concentration is needed (500-1000x), as occurs in the case of high efficiency multijunction solar cells, it is likely that it will be crucial for commercial success at the system level to achieve such concentration with a sufficient acceptance angle. This allows tolerance in mass production of all components, relaxes the module assembling and system installation, and decreasing the cost of structural elements. Since the main goal of CPV is to make solar energy inexpensive, there can be used only a few surfaces. Decreasing the number of elements and achieving high acceptance angle, can be relaxed optical and mechanical requirements, such as accuracy of the optical surfaces profiles, the module assembling, the installation, the supporting structure, etc. To this end, improvements in sunshape modelling at the system design stage may lead to higher system efficiencies [].
Luminescent solar concentrators
A new emerging type of concentrators which are still at the research stage are Luminescent solar concentrators, they are composed of luminescent plates either totally impregnated by luminescent species or fluorescent thin films on transparent plates. They absorb solar light which is converted to fluorescence guided to plate edges where it emerges in a concentrated form. The concentration factor is directly proportional to the plate surface and inversely proportional to the plate edges. Such arrangement allows to use small amounts of solar cells as a result of concentration of fluorescent light. The fluorescent concentrator is able to concentrate both direct and diffuse light which is especially important on cloudy days. They also don't need expensive Solar trackers.
Concentrated photovoltaics and thermal
Concentrated photovoltaics and thermal (CPVT), also sometimes called combined heat and power solar (CHAPS), is a cogeneration or micro cogeneration technology used in concentrated photovoltaics that produces both electricity and heat in the same module. CPVT at 100-1000 suns utilizes similar components as CPV, including dual-axis tracking and multijunction photovoltaic cells. A fluid actively transports the collected heat and simultaneously cools the integrated thermal+photovoltaic receivers. Typically, an array of receivers and a heat exchanger operate within a closed thermal loop. To maintain efficient overall operation and avoid damage from thermal runaway, the demand for heat from the secondary side of the exchanger must be insured to remain consistently high. Under such optimal operating conditions, collection efficiencies exceeding 70% (~35% electric, ~40% thermal) are anticipated.
Unlike CSP and other CHP systems which may be designed to function at temperatures in excess of several hundred degrees, the maximum operating temperatures (Tmax) of CPVT systems are limited to less than approximately 100-125°C on account of the reliability limitation of their multi-junction PV cells. (i.e. the cells are fabricated from a layering of thin-film III-V semiconductor materials having intrinsic lifetimes that rapidly decrease with an Arrhenius-type temperature dependence.) Additional extrinsic factors, such as those imposed by the frequent system thermal cycling and/or by seemingly minor variations in receiver heat-transfer performance, will further reduce the Tmax compatible with long system life. Since the concentration of thermal work available is proportional to Tmax, CPVT systems may become economical to augment the energy supply for lower temperature applications with constant high demand. The heat may be employed in district heating, water heating and air conditioning, desalination or process heat. For applications having lower or intermittent heat demand, the system may be augmented with a switchable heat dump to the external environment in order to maintain reliable electrical output, despite the resulting reduction in net operating efficiency.
Due to the added complexities in comparison to zero and low-concentration PV systems, demonstrating long-life performance will be a key engineering challenge for the first generations of CPV and CPVT technologies. Performance certification testing standards (e.g. IEC 62108, UL 8703, IEC 62789, IEC 62670) include stress conditions that may be useful to uncover some predominantly infant and early life (<1-2 year) failure modes at the system, module, and sub-component levels. However, such standardized tests are generally incapable to evaluate comprehensive long-term (10-25+ plus year) lifetimes for each specific system design and application under its broader range of actual operating conditions. Long-life performance of these complex systems is therefore assessed in the field, and is improved through aggressive product development cycles which are guided by the results of accelerated component/system aging, enhanced performance monitoring diagnostics, and failure analysis. Significant growth in the deployment of CPV and CPVT can be anticipated once the long-term performance and reliability concerns are better addressed to build confidence in system bankability.
A first generation of CPV and CPVT products are now being deployed by several startup ventures. CPVT systems are currently in production in Europe, with Zenith Solar developing CPVT systems with a claimed efficiency of 72%. The US company Cogenra  has installed CPVT systems.
- Concentrated solar power (CSP)
- Luminescent solar concentrator
- Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collector#PV/T concentrator (CPVT) (CPVT)
- 500X concentration ratio is claimed at Amonix website.
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