Photovoltaic system could offset diesel power generation

A low-cost and readily deployable concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) system could offset diesel power generation in remote locations.

Toronto-based Morgan Solar is currently finalising the design of its CPV cell before ramping up to full commercial production.

The device is a thin circular sheet of PMMA [poly(methyl methacrylate)] plastic some 30cm in diameter with a specially etched optical pattern that focuses light onto a tiny 5 x 5mm PV cell housed on an electronics chip.

The cell is a multi-junction type made from germanium gallium arsenide, with an efficiency between of 39–42 per cent, which compares with 15–17 per cent for standard crystalline silicon PV.

‘The light streams in through the optic and is concentrated onto a surface on the inside where it is then fired through a small injection point in a light guide — so that all the light coming in never escapes,’ said company vice-president Nicolas Morgan. ‘The property we’re taking advantage of is called total internal reflection and it’s the same property that keeps light inside a fibre-optic system.’

Multiple individual cells are arranged in panels are placed at each corner of a rectangular aluminum frame. This quad unit can be deployed in as little as 30 minutes, making it suitable for supplementing diesel generators in remote locations.

Indeed, the idea for the technology came when one of Morgan’s engineers was working for Doctors Without Borders in the Congo.

‘There will be colonies on the moon before there is grid connection to Shabunda [territory]; it’s sad but that’s the truth,’ said Morgan. He added: ‘The entire Cayman Islands are run off diesel — it’s insane.’

The company believes it can replace up to 40 per cent of diesel generation and could therefore find a market in places such as India, where some 10–20 per cent of power generation is off-grid diesel.