A Hollywood-based solar startup says that it will soon be able to produce electricity from the sun at costs that are competitive with fossil-fuel generation. The key is the company's dramatic improvement in the performance of concentrated photovoltaic technology.
Sunrgi, which emerged out of stealth mode last week, has created a concentrated photovoltaic system that uses a lens to focus sunlight up to 2,000 times onto tiny solar cells that can convert 37.5 percent of the sun's energy into electricity. Stronger concentrations of sunlight allow engineers to use much smaller solar cells, making it more economical to use higher-efficiency--but higher-cost--cells. Sunrgi, for example, will use cells based on gallium arsenside and germanium substrates.
Sunrgi estimates that its system will be capable of producing electricity at a wholesale cost of five cents per kilowatt-hour. Prototypes have been built and tested both in the laboratory and in the field, and the company expects to start commercial production in 12 to 15 months. "It's quite an aggressive claim," says Daniel Friedman, a solar-energy researcher at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). He says that most others in the space are still working toward seven or eight cents per kilowatt-hour. "I can't say Sunrgi won't achieve what it's claiming, but right now, it's just on paper, and costs like that are only going to be a reality at the large manufacturing level," he says. "Even then, the five-cent figure sounds really optimistic."
The fears of peak oil are misplaced. Given time and capital, technology will solve our energy problems.