Silex Systems has begun production at its unique concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) solar power station in Bridgewater, some 20 years after the technology was first conceived and two years after the company bought the rights to the technology from the failed Solar Systems.
The 500kW pilot plant in Bridgewater is the first of its kind in Australia, and features eight dish systems in a so-called “dense array” that achieves conversion efficiency from its cells of more than 40 per cent – more than double some of the best silicon-based conventional cells in commercial production around the world.
The Bridgewater plant will serve as a testing facility as the company works on a 2MW demonstration plant in Mildura – the forerunner to a 102MW plant to be built in coming years and commissioned by 2015 – and negotiates contracts for demonstration plants in the Middle East and in southern California. Announcements on these are expected soon.
Although smaller arrays or previous versions of the technology have been operating in the Northern Territory and elsewhere, Silex CEO Michael Goldsworthy says the opening of Bridgewater is a significant event, as it likely signals one of the best opportunities Australia has to develop and retain production and manufacture of an indigenous solar technology – unlike so many others which had to be sold to overseas groups to get development.
The company manufacturers its receiver and module components at its factory in Melbourne, which has a capacity of 100MW a year, but can be upgraded to 500MW if the demand is there.
‘We believe it has got a great future,” Goldsworthy told RenewEconomy from New York today. Goldsworthy would not reveal estimates of the technology’s anticipated LCOE, but said it would be “very low cost” and believed it was already competitive with other PV technologies.
Asked if that meant it was within the industry estimates of $150-$220/MWh for utility-scale PV, Goldsworthy replied: “We think we are well and truly there, and we’ll need to get lower than $150/MWh as we ramp up volume.”
Goldsworthy says that the CPV technology – based around ultra-high efficiency triple junction cells – is currently boasting conversion efficiency rates of 43.5 per cent, and expects to rise to 50 per cent and more as improvements are made. The technology also features active cooling to maximise power output and lifetime performance from the solar cells, and lower maintenance requirements.
Silex says eight dish systems have been successfully commissioned and are operational, while the remaining eight dishes for the pilot facility will be brought online progressively over the next few weeks.
Silex is also looking at the next generation of CPV systems, which will likely include a “Power Tower” heliostat design – similar to some of the technologies being rolled out in the solar thermal space, but effectively replacing a “solar thermal” tower with a “PV tower”.
A proof of concept was completed in 2008, but development was suspended to concentrate on the CPV dish. However, according to a recent presentation from the company, it has the potential for achieving a further reduction in the cost of solar PV power. R&D is also being conducted into energy storage, with a possible demonstration project in 2014. By 2014, according to the presentation, the company hopes to be working on major projects of 50MW plus in Europe, Asia, Middle East and the US, and to have up to 1000MW of manufacturing capacity locked in.