Silex finishes Australia CPV plant

Australia’s Silex has commissioned a 1.5MW concentrating PV project in the state of Victoria – among the world’s largest – as CPV continues marching towards commercialisation in the teeth of cheap traditional PV modules.

Solar Systems, a subsidiary of Sydney-listed Silex, also confirms it is on track to complete a 1MW demonstrator in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year, a plant with which the company intends to tout its technology to the future Middle Eastern solar customers.

Last summer Silex commissioned the first 600kW phase of its CPV complex in northwestern Victoria.

The second 1.5MW stage – which benefitted from a A$10m ($9.2m) grant from the state – employs 40 dense-array dish systems. The electricity is fed into the grid and sold via a power-purchase agreement with Diamond Energy.

Silex hopes to begin construction next year at a third 100MW phase in Victoria. It has provisionally secured significant government support for that project, however the support hinges on challenging milestones being met. No PPA has yet been signed for the third phase.

In the near term, Silex is racing towards completion of its first offshore project in Saudi Arabia, with half of the 28 dishes now in place. That plant will be used to offset an existing diesel generator at the Nofa equestrian resort, near Riyadh.

Silex, which boasts a significant war chest off the back of its core uranium enrichment business, acquired Melbourne-based CPV specialist Solar Systems Group in March 2010 for A$20m – claiming that A$150m had already been invested into its technology.

At one point Silex was also Australia’s largest maker of traditional PV modules. However that unit was allowed to fall by the wayside during the throes of the most recent PV price crash, with its Sydney factory shuttered in 2011.

Since acquiring Solar Systems, Silex has undertaken a significant redesign of its core technology – a so-called “dense array” converter – while also reconfiguring its manufacturing facility in Melbourne. That factory is now engaged in “low volume” production.

Silex’s CPV technology sees parabolic mirrors on a satellite dish used to concentrated sunlight on multi-junction solar cells, which currently reach conversion efficiencies greater than 40%. The company’s mid-term technology roadmap envisages a levelised cost of energy of A$0.10 per kWh at optimal sites.

Silex considers Saudi Arabia and the US key future markets for its CPV technology. Last week French CPV specialist Soitec nabbed a deal with Saudi Aramco to build a 1MW project in Saudi Arabia.