Alstom and Soitec in CPV alliance

Soitec, the France-based concentrated PV specialist, has entered into an “alliance” with Alstom.

While they will initially target French projects, the arrangement potentially has far larger consequences for the world’s nascent CPV market.

In the near term, the two companies will target France’s current 100MW CPV tender round, with Alstom saying that Soitec’s “high efficiency modules are well suited to solar-power production in the south of France”.

Over a longer period, however, Alstom may have its eye on future CPV markets in places like the Middle East and Africa.

France has emerged as an unlikely hotspot for niche areas of the PV industry such as CPV and building-integrated PV, thanks to the government’s desire to foster an advanced domestic industry that avoids competing directly with Chinese mega-producers of crystalline silicon modules.

Alstom and Soitec hope to create a “sector of excellence” in France, which will “create jobs and be ready to meet the challenges of the French energy transition”.

Grenoble-based Soitec – a semiconductor specialist – has assumed the mantle of the world’s foremost CPV company since buying Concentrix in 2011. France is also home to the smaller CPV company Heliotrop.

CPV can offer a lower levelised cost of energy than traditional PV under the right conditions via significantly greater conversion efficiencies, but it requires more upfront investment, and deployment remains at a very small scale compared to the dozens of gigawatts of standard PV capacity in place around the world.

The apparent success of CPV companies over the past year or two – and in particular Soitec – has surprised many observers of the solar-energy sector, coming in the face of an onslaught of cheap c-Si modules.

Soitec recently wrapped up construction of a 1.5MW project in California using its fifth-generation Concentrix CX-S530 technology, which boasts an efficiency of 30%, and German solar developer Belectric is currently building a 1MW CSP demonstration project for Saudi Aramco using Soitec kit.

Perhaps most impressively, in May Soitec successfully placed a $110m bond in South Africa for its 44MW Touwsrivier project in that country, which, if built, would elevate CPV to an entirely new plane within the global energy industry.

The backing of Alstom will certainly put a fair wind at Soitec’s back as it looks to crack into new markets around the world.

Alstom, which is already an investor in solar-thermal specialist BrightSource, says the combination of CSP and CPV represents a “perfectly complementary offer for high-efficiency [solar] plants with flexible capacity and rapid deployment”.

Last month Australia’s Silex commissioned a 1.5MW CPV project of its own.