Technology Merit: Solar Power

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eSolar (Pasadena, Calif.) for the introduction of a modular and scalable concentrating solar power (CSP) technology that uses thousands of small mirrors and ultralight mounting and tracking systems to cut deployment time and drive down cost. By using less steel and more software, eSolar claims to be able to decrease the overall costs of its plants to less than half that of a parabolic trough facility.

In August 2009, eSolar opened its first CSP plant, the 5 MW Sierra SunTower in Lancaster, Calif., the only operating power tower in North America and one of three worldwide, according to eSolar. Now delivering power to Southern California Edison, the Sierra SunTower consists of two mirror fields and two power towers only 180 feet high and more than 24,000 one-square-meter heliostats.

SolFocus (Mountain View, Calif.) for the development of concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) technology that combines high-efficiency solar cells and advanced optics for low-cost, clean energy that is scalable and dependable. In combination with efficiency levels upwards of 25%, SolFocus claims to be accelerating the trajectory for solar energy to reach cost parity with traditional energy sources. Its CPV systems use a fraction of the active PV material compared with traditional solar panels. In contrast with concentrating solar power systems, SolFocus CPV systems do not consume water because they are passively cooled; water is only used for panel cleaning and maintenance.

SOLON (Berlin, Germany) for the introduction of its scalable, turnkey "power plant in a box" solar system. A U.S./German solar manufacturer with production capacity in the United States, SOLON launched the Velocity MW Solar System to provide preconfigured, 1 MW modular solar fields that can quickly scale to capacity in as fast as four months. SOLON says that the Velocity system's streamlined design will expand the solar power market's reach by eliminating most of the time, cost, and performance risks currently associated with integration. To create Velocity, SOLON leveraged its experience designing and implementing turnkey solutions for major U.S. utilities, including Tucson Electric Power Company and Pacific Gas & Electric.

National Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.) for the implementation of its SolarMagic power optimizers as a solution to long-standing problems with solar arrays, boosting solar system performance and reliability. Prone to underperformance issues from real-world conditions such as asymmetrical aging and environmentally induced mismatch, studies show that array impairment of as little as 1.5% can cause a system performance degradation of 17%, according to the firm. National's researchers and engineers utilized proprietary algorithms to extract the maximum energy available from a system. To minimize costs without compromising reliability, National kept the time-proven series-parallel panel arrangement, distributing only the DC/DC and maximum power point tracking function at the module level.

In worldwide field trials, SolarMagic recovered approximately 50% of otherwise lost energy, with a maximum 71% recovery achieved. National also signed a memorandum of understanding with Suntech, under which the two companies will jointly promote the technology and develop future solutions. The SolarMagic distribution network has grown to 22 distribution partners across four continents.