Silex Systems believes that the levellised cost of energy for its unique concentrating solar PV technology can fall below 10c/kWh within a few years – making it cost competitive with a range of competing technologies such as wind and peaking gas.
The prediction was made by Silex Systems CEO Dr Michael Goldsworthy at the official launch on Thursday of its 600kW testing plant at Bridgewater in central Victoria, where it has installed 16 of its CS500 solar dish concentrators, and a range of smaller dish concentrators for R&D purposes.
Silex Systems bought Solar Systems out of receivership in May, 2010 for $20 million, including just $2 million in cash. Goldsworthy says the company has spent about $20 million reconfiguring and upgrading the technology – and the Bridgewater production plant – and made us of another subsidiary, the materials developer Translucent, to help improve efficiency.
Goldsworthy believes that – if large volumes were assumed – the technology could currently be deployed now at a levellised cost of energy of between 15c/kWh and 20c/kWh – which accords to similar predictions by thin film panel producers such as First Solar.
However, Goldsworthy says that with further improvements in efficiency and refinements in manufacturing, the costs could be brought down to 10c/kWh and below within a few years.
“We’ve got to get there, because that is where the market is moving,” Goldsworthy told RenewEconomy at the launch. “At that price, that makes us competitive for daytime power.”
The project, as expected, is enthusiastically supported by local MPs, including Peter Crisp, the Nationals member for Mildura, where Silex Systems intends to build a 1.5MW demonstration plant in the next 12 months, and then a utility-scale 100MW facility.
“This is a significant event for all our futures,” Crisp said. But despite the fact that the Victorian government is tipping in $50 million and the federal government $75 million for the Mildura project, there were no ministers among the 100-strong crowd. And no other media either.
Silex Systems’ is a unique “dense array” CPV technology. It uses ultra-high efficiency PV cells known as multi-junction cells that were initially developed for space and satellite applications (the Bridgewater cells were made by a Boeing offshoot). They work best in excellent sunlight, which is collected in mirros and focused onto a small area of CPV cells. For instance, the 600kW facility at Bridgewater uses just 4 square metres of modules. A 270kW rooftop solar PV array installed at hervey Bay Hospital this year by another Silex subsidiary, Silex Solar, used 1,670 sq m of modules.
Goldsworthy says the cells currently boast efficiency rates of more than 40 per cent – about double that of the best performing rooftop PV – but he hopes that this can be lifted to more than 50 per cent, or even 60 per cent with further research.