Intelligent Energy

On the U.S.-Mexico border, a massive CPV solar project will rise

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SolFocus will help build a concentrating solar photovoltaic power plant near Tecate, Mexico that could eventually be the largest in the world.

SolFocus announced today it will help build a 50-megawatt concentrating solar photovoltaic power plant near Tecate, Mexico, just a few clicks from the U.S.-Mexico border. The project, which will be developed in phases by Mexican land and real estate developer Grupo Musa and U.S.-based Synergy Technologies, is expected to eventually reach 450-megawatt capacity, making it the largest CPV solar farm in the world.

Construction on the first 50-megawatt phase will begin in late 2012, according to the announcement. The power plant will use SolFocus' concentrator photovoltaic equipment. It will be owned and operated by SolMex Energy, a new company formed by Grupo Musa and energy developer Synergy Technologies. Most of the initial 50MW installation will meet energy demands of various facilities located in the area.

SolFocus CEO Mark Crowley said in a statement the first year of operation should deliver at least 120,000 megawatt hours of electricity to Baja California. The power plant will contain 3,850 SolFocus systems on the 300-acre site. International corporation FINEXIM has allocated $720 million to the first four of nine 50-MW phases of the solar project.

Until now, Mexico's renewable energy market has been comprised primarily of wind power. But the country also is an ideal locale for solar, and more specifically CPV.

Conventional photovoltaic panels don't perform as well in hot temperatures. CPV does, making it a suitable technology for the high-heat borderlands. CPV is essentially a mashup of two more common technologies: photovoltaic solar (PV) and concentrating solar thermal (CST). With conventional PV, sunlight hits a solar panels that usually contains silicon-based cells and turns it into electricity. With concentrating solar thermal, mirrors are used to concentrate sunlight onto a tower containing a fluid such as oil. The fluid gets hot and generates steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity.

CPV, on the other hand, uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate light from the sun onto super-efficient cells to produce electricity. CPV manufacturers, which includes Amonix, Soitec and SolFocus, serves a small, niche market. The technology doesn't require water like solar thermal to produce power and performs especially well in areas like the Southwest that have high percentage of direct sunlight.

Photo: SolFocus

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Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure