Solar Sell: Soitec CEO Argues Case for its Advanced Solar Technology in San Diego

4/19/11Follow @bvbigelow

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the company perceived an opportunity to expand into the market for photovoltaic cells, the semiconductor devices that convert sunlight directly into electricity. The Soitec CEO says it was clear that innovations in semiconductor performance and efficiency would drive demand for photovoltaic (PV) cells, which would eventually become a high-volume global market.

Soitec’s proprietary CPV modules use Fresnel lenses that concentrate sunlight 500 times, focusing the sun’s radiant energy onto small, highly efficient multi-junction solar cells. Concentrating the solar energy in this way makes it possible to use high-performance solar cells that operate more efficiently—and would be perhaps too expensive to cover larger areas. The company says the combination of its concentrating lenses and high-performance PV chips enables it to achieve a “world-leading” AC system efficiency that is almost twice as high as the efficiency of conventional silicon systems.

Soitec says the technology was developed at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, Europe’s largest solar research institute, which founded Concentrix Solar as a spin-off in 2005 to commercialize its breakthrough. Soitec acquired Concentrix Solar in 2009, and has established manufacturing plants and R&D centers for the technology in France, Singapore, Germany, and the United States (in Phoenix, AZ).

The 150-megawatt project that Tenaska has proposed for the Imperial Valley is designed to provide power to San Diego via the Sunrise Power Link now being built by San Diego Gas & Electric. Progress on the project, however, depends on the developers’ success in winning a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for roughly half of the $500 million project. Once that DOE loan guarantee is awarded, and Soitec completes its agreement with Tenaska, the company plans to proceed with construction of its Concentrix factory in the San Diego area and pursue options for related financing.

After Soitec completes work on the factory, which is expected by early 2013, Auberton-Hervé says the company plans to create 450 solar manufacturing jobs in the San Diego area. Adding that many jobs could be a powerful incentive in winning political support for the DOE loan guarantee—and in forestalling any concerns that might arise about a French energy company becoming the potential beneficiary of a U.S. loan guarantee.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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