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Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) trailblazing

Orange is providing broadband in remote areas of Niger using solar-powered base stations

JDSU recently acquired critical technology from UK-based QuantaSol that will help it increase the efficiency of its concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) cells beyond 40 percent over the next few years. Efficiency, or how well a CPV cell converts light into electrical power, is the most important metric in the solar industry.

Jan-Gustav Werthen, a CPV expert at JDSU, is helping to drive the company’s CPV efforts.

How did you get into renewable energy?

I became interested in solar photovoltaics as a student in Sweden, and found out that Stanford University was doing active research. I received a grant from the Sweden-America foundation and then went on to get a Masters degree and PhD in Solar PV. Then I was fortunate enough to join a company in Silicon Valley where CPV was already underway. Our team was the best in the world but we were at least 15 years ahead of our time.

I went on to create my own PV company that was integrated into JDSU in 2005. In September 2010 we launched our first CPV cell with 39 percent efficiency. Now we’re focused on ramping production while also continuing R&D to move beyond 40 percent efficiency.

Solar PV didn’t really start taking hold until 2002, but since then the growth has been explosive. Now the time has come for CPV to also enjoy real growth as utilities look to CPV as the best option for large-scale solar plants. I am both happy and proud to be a part of this exciting journey.

Can you explain how a CPV cell works (CPV for dummies)?

Sunlight is concentrated up to 500 times on a tiny solar cell that is less than a quarter inch on its side. If you picture the way a kid uses a magnifying glass to burn a piece of grass, it is a similar effect.

Despite its small size, this cell produces the same amount of power, even more in fact, as a panel 500 times larger.  CPV saves on semiconductor material and provides efficiency of up to 40 percent today. CPV will continue to become even more efficient over the next 10 years.

To build a solar power plant, these concentrating optics must be assembled on trackers that follow the sun’s path throughout the day. CPV does best in sunny areas such as deserts where no other PV technology can beat its performance. In such areas, CPV is ideal for solar power plants.

What inspires you the most about your job?

The close teamwork is what makes my job most rewarding. We have worked very hard for almost three years to get where we are today with CPV. Everyone chips in.

I also enjoy working with customers and seeing their reaction when we give them something that differentiates us from all other competitors. Being able to predict what kind of new products customers want is one of the most exciting things about my job.

It takes a combination of innovation, tenacity and persistence to make it in a new market like CPV. All are needed – and when they ultimately work out, the reward is phenomenal and you can share it with the whole team.

Any other big developments coming to renewable energy in the near future?

Solar power along with wind power are the most reliable renewable energy sources.
I do believe some countries could be using up to 50 percent of renewable energy sources for power generation before 2050.

Even as soon as 2020, many of us will no longer be driving cars with combustion engines but electric cars. I am about to place an order for my first electric car to be delivered early 2013 – it is nice, very nice!

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