Silicon Valley solar power company SolFocus on Monday said it has signed a deal to install 10 megawatts of concentrating photovoltaic panels in Greece and expects to build its first project in the United States later this year.
SolFocus’ solar panels use small curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a high-efficiency solar cell to maximize production of electricity while reducing the use of expensive silicon. SolFocus claims its panels are up to twice as efficient as conventional photovoltaics. But given the relatively high costs of such systems, the company decamped for Europe where governments in Spain and Greece pay a premium rate for solar energy through “feed-in tariffs.”
But the recently enacted federal economic stimulus package, which includes billions of dollars dedicated to renewable energy projects, is luring SolFocus home.
“Now with the new stimulus package we believe the big year for us in the U.S. will be 2010,” Nancy Hartsoch, SolFocus’ vice president of corporate marketing, told Green Wombat.
Meanwhile, utilities are ramping up installations of photovoltaic solar projects. California utility PG&E (PCG) two weeks ago, for instance, unveiled a program to install 500 megawatts of ground-mounted solar panels over the next five years. The projects would essentially be small-scale solar farms generating between one and 20 megawatts of electricity and built on utility-owned land near substations.
“That‘s the perfect spot for our technology,” says Hartsoch.
Not so perfect is PG&E’s Northern California territory. SolFocus’ power plants need direct sunlight to most efficiently produce electricity. But Hartsoch says the southern reaches of PG&E’s service area offer sufficient sunlight and as production costs fall it’ll become cost effective by 2012 to build concentrating photovoltaic power plants in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in Northern California.
She says SolFocus’ first solar farms will likely be built for municipal-owned utilities and the company currently is in discussions with cities in the Southwest.
The deal announced Monday with Greece’s Samaras Group expands a 1.6 megawatt agreement the companies signed last year.