Does Amonix Bet Mean Less is More in Solar Power?

The news yesterday that Amonix, a concentrating photovoltaics company (CPV), received $129 million in venture capital financing certainly put some spring in the step of the solar industry, which even as it pulls out of the recession is facing a series of challenges.

Most pressing on the utility-scale end (that is, solar power in the tens or hundreds of megawatts) is the lack of readily available land to build solar plants, which can require miles of space. As we’ve reported previously, environmental roadblocks, NIMBY issues and other legal challenges are stymieing big solar projects and raising costs.

But concentrating photovoltaic power, which uses lenses to focus sunlight onto super-efficient solar cells, can provide the most watt per square foot of any of the leading solar power technologies. For example, it would take 1000 of First Solar‘s thin film PV panels to generate as much electricity as one of Amonix’s 7700 CPV systems. Amonix’s CPV also uses half the square footage per watt as solar thermal energy.

This could mean the company has a leg up when it comes convincing investors that not only does its technology work–but it can actually get it in the ground.

Another advantage of the Amonix product: it doesn’t require flat ground, unlike traditional PV installations, or a lot of water, like solar thermal–a big problem in sun-rich, water-poor climes.

Amonix says the sweet spot for its product is in the 2-30 MW range, sometimes known as “community” solar power. Its 50×70 ft. systems certainly aren’t going on anyone’s roof, but you might be able to fit a few in that empty lot down the street, or in an abandoned housing development. For utilities like Southern California Edison these sort of distributed, high-wattage set ups could be just what they’re looking for.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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