CPV ditched at 150MW US project

Concentrating PV (CPV) specialist Soitec has suffered a blow in the US after its technology was dumped from a 150MW solar project in favour of conventional PV – a move condemned by California state regulatory commissioners.

France-based Soitec said its CPV modules will not now be used by developer Tenaska Solar Ventures for its CSOLAR IV West solar plant in the state.

The project – which has a power purchase agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) – said it would use Soitec in 2011, prompting the solar manufacturer to announce the construction of a factory to supply that plant and others in the US.

Soitec today said it was “disappointed” by the decision – but added that it “does not materially jeopardise the prospects for its North American manufacturing facility in California from which it supplies a worldwide demand for its CPV technology”.

Soitec's CPV technology uses triple junction cells mounted on glass support plates, on which Fresnel lenses concentrate sunlight to a factor of 500. The plant would have been one of the technology's first utility-scale deployments.

That disappointment was echoed by members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which approved the original PPA in 2011 and was told of the decision to switch technologies late last week.

The commission was told the decision appeared to be based on "a dispute of economics".

Commissioner Michael Picker said he was “really disappointed and disheartened” by the move, noting the added value in terms of factors such as technology diversity and employment that a utility-scale CPV project would have brought.

“Our ability to maintain the manufacturing capacity for these new technologies brings value not just to the site of the project but to other communities where manufacturing takes place," he said.

Several of the CPUC members said the original granting of the PPA with SDG&E leaned heavily on such issues.

One member said the reversal “calls into question what we approved in the first place".

Picker added: “I’m going to rack my brains to see if there’s any kind of appropriate action the commission can take.”

The Tenaska decision is a rare setback for CPV, which has been gaining traction globally in the past year, with progress in emerging markets such as South Africa and a deal for a pilot plant with the US Army.

Tenaska has yet to issue any statement on the decision.