4 January 2010


Helios launches 31%-efficient CPV module

Established in 2007 and backed by ten local entrepreneurs, Helios Solar LLC says that — in partnership with designer-integrator Vibrant Solar Inc (based in the same office space in Denver, CO, USA) — it has launched its SunCube Mark 9.2 concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) module. Sales have begun, with installations slated to begin in the Spring. Vibrant will perform all sales and installation in the initial phase, while Helios focuses on supply and building US factories to produce the SunCube domestically.

Developed by Australia’s Green and Gold Energy Pty Ltd (GGE), the SunCube is currently assembled at India licensee Square Engineering’s plant in Satara, India (where four assembly lines can each produce 100MW of SunCubes per year) and imported by Helios under an exclusive license from GGE for southwestern USA and Hawaii. In addition, until there are other American licensees, Helios can also sell throughout the USA. GGE’s CEO & SunCube developer Greg Watson plus Square Engineering’s managing director Deepak Kelkar were in Denver in December for consultation and planning at Vibrant’s office. Installation of Helios’ demonstration array there was completed in mid December.

“I watched Green and Gold develop from one inventor, Greg Watson, and one working model nearly four years ago through his R&D facility opening in January 2008, licensing to India then Spain, until they were ready for us,” says Helios’ CEO president & founder Scott VanKirk, who awaited when GGE could supply the American market.

The 300W SunCube module is 31% efficient, compared with 10–18.5% for standard PV thin-film and flat panels. So, fewer solar modules are required, at much lower cost, to produce enough electricity to power a home, commercial business, factory or large power user, city, or even a utility. “Other CPV modules have been announced but none that we know of have near the efficiency of the SunCube,” claims Helios’ VP marketing & sales Mark Simmons. As of December, Vibrant has the first five SunCubes installed in the USA up and running daily on the roof of their offices. “Internal testing showed what we expected, so we are beginning sales,” Simmons adds.

Emcore of Albuquerque, NM manufactures the triple-junction gallium arsenide cells used in the SunCube. The chips are housed in a ground-mounted dual-axis tracking system, optimizing the available sunlight (concentrating 750+ suns on the chips) and yielding about double the electrical output compared to standard solar panels. Triple-junction cells have a very high tolerance to heat and produce power when silicon cells fail in the heat, says Helios. SunCube arrays could be placed in desert areas throughout the southwestern USA, where the temperature prohibits the use of standard PV panels.

“We recently quoted a project for military base housing which required $14.6m in standard rooftop solar panels. Using SunCubes instead, the project only costs $9.1m, for the same amount of electricity production," says Simmons. He estimates that, together, he and Vibrant’s director of sales Robert Quist have delivered proposals for over 3000MW of SunCubes so far. “A lot of RFPs (requests for proposal) from government and other non-profits are non-starters with the cost of standard solar modules, but work economically with SunCubes,” claims Quist. Vibrant has both leasing and power purchase agreement partners that can offer the product on a 10–25 year basis at power production rates as low as $0.04/kWh when local or state incentives are available, making it competitive with new coal plants — a cost parity that is essential for renewables to eliminate coal, Helios adds.

Most RFPs stipulate an array size such as 1MW or, in the recent case of the Denver Public Schools RFP, 100kW of solar times 30–50 sites. “With SunCubes we have to ask ‘Do you want the output of 1MW of standard solar, about 1.4 million kilowatt hours (kWh), which would only require 600kW of SunCubes, or do you want 1kW of SunCube, which outputs 2.5 million kWh?’,” says Simmons.

Helios also says that the SunCube requires just half the acreage of standard solar ground arrays per megawatt hour of production, and can be repaired and retrofitted in the field. Also, Emcore is already working on chips with efficiency of 50% and more, and the SunCube’s plug-and-play feature allows it to keep up with developing chip technology, the firm adds. Helios is now progressing with plans to build an assembly plant.

Helios aims to create jobs in the USA by hiring for the assembly plant, sourcing all parts locally, and contracting installation through Vibrant and its array and civil engineering partners. “The farthest we will need to go for parts supply is Albuquerque,” says VanKirk. “We are in the process of site selection, while sales ramp up. We should start hiring in second-quarter 2010.”

Helios is planning to build one or more module manufacturing plants in Colorado and possibly more across the southwestern USA. VanKirk and Simmons say that they have been meeting with Economic Development Corporations and Colorado state officials in the process of site selection for the first plant. An RFP to all EDCs and cooperative groups along the Front Range (part of the Rocky Mountains in north-central Colorado) is to be sent out soon. Each line is expected to employ 180 staff directly and more than 1000 indirectly.

Also, an alliance between Helios and the only independent nuclear power plant company in the USA is in the planning stage. Colorado commercial real-estate broker Thorne Davis (of Davis Company), with ex-State Representative Dr Juan Trujillo consulting, is spearheading the effort to develop the Colorado Energy Park in southeast Pueblo County, intending 20MW or more of SunCubes along with other renewable energy producers plus a nuclear plant. The client has also requested and received a proposal for 2000MW of SunCubes per 3400MW nuclear plant, says Helios.

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