SolFocus no more


The difficulties facing Concentrating Photovoltaics (CPV) in the current PV market are becoming overwhelming, for all but a handful of players, as is evidenced by CPV startup closing its doors.

GTM’s Eric Wesoff, who keeps a close eye on struggling solar companies on his "List of Deceased Solar Companies," has found that the firm has closed. Previously Wesoff understood that the firm was being "restructured for sale," while he now reports that the firm is in negotiations to sell its assets and IP.

SolFocus was one of a number of CPV firms, developing various approaches to CPV technology in the Silicon Valley area. One such firm was GreenVolts, which halted operations in September, 2012. Only months earlier GreenVolts had announced a funding and distribution deal with power giant ABB, however when that deal fell over, GreenVolts was left with no option but to close its doors.

GTM’s Wesoff reports that SolFocus had developed 18 MW of CPV and was attempting to develop a 450 MW project in northern Mexico.

In its recent, "The Current Status of CPV 2013," PV Insider wrote that the SolFocus closure does not condemn the technology to the scrapheap. "While SolFocus was making progress over the last 12 months announcing a large first tranche of the greater 450 MW project in Mexico, no different than other large PV projects, a number of delays occurred while the investor base became tired."

Paula Mints, from SPV Market Research told pv magazine that SolFocus’ failure made her terribly sad, and that co-founder Gary Conley was a personal friend. "It has been very hard for CPV to compete with the low prices for solar installations. The current low incentive environment that the industry is in does not help – and, the trend to tender bidding to set the rates at which solar electricity is sold does not favor quality installations, healthy margins and continues the drumbeat of commoditization for all solar technologies."

Soitec remains the leading CPV developer, and is currently constructing a 44 MW CPV plant in South Africa. PV Insider reports that the company has announced a project pipeline in the U.S., with signed PPAs, of 300 MW. "It shows that the CPV market is taking off," said Soitec’s Hansjörg Lerchenmüller, in the CPV report.

GTM’s Wesoff is a little more skeptical of the reasons for Soitec’s survival. "The only CPV company with a seeming shot is Soitec, by virtue of its deep-pocketed parent and vertical integration," he writes.