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PARC, startup aim to cut solar costs

Posted by iTech - 2006-02-21

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Seeking to lower the cost of solar energy by up to 50 percent, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) on Thursday (Feb. 16) announced a partnership with SolFocus Inc., a manufacturer of low-cost solar energy systems.

Under the plan, PARC (Palo Alto, Calif.), a subsidiary of Xerox Corp., is contributing core patents and long-term technology development support for current and next-generation product lines in exchange for royalties and equity in SolFocus.

The partnership builds on SolFocus’ designs for concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) technology. CPV technology creates electricity by using precision optical components such as lenses and mirrors to direct and “concentrate” sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells.

SolFocus’ prototype solar panels are smaller, cheaper, and easier to manufacture than the flat-plate photovoltaic panels that currently dominate the market, according to PARC.

The venture is a result of PARC’s “clean technologies” initiative, a research program designed to focus on key areas of renewable energy. The research organization is exploring solar energy generation, energy distribution, reduction and conservation, and contamination monitoring.

“We teamed with PARC to help improve our first product concept and to accelerate a second-generation product that promises even greater performance,” said Gary Conley, SolFocus chief executive, in a statement.

“The first-generation panels will break price barriers in the market, but the second-generation panels with PARC technology will change the market for solar dramatically,” he said. “The current installed cost of the flat-plate photovoltaic systems is about $7 per watt, but our approach should produce electricity for about half that amount — or less.”

SolFocus’ second-generation design is based on a solid-state, or “one-piece,” concept featuring small reflective concentrator elements housed in a flat molded glass tile with mirrors on each side. The technology does not use scarce polysilicon materials, has no moving parts, among other advantages, according to the company.

The first-generation SolFocus CPV prototypes were installed at PARC in January, said Scott Elrod, head of PARC’s clean tech initiative. “We believe there are big market opportunities in clean technology, and we have a half-dozen additional projects under way that could be equally transformative,” he said.

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