Is New Trough Technology Worth Waiting For?

I have been reading about new trough style PV panels which are supposed to be less expensive and generate more power than existing panels. Some appear to heat an oil to drive a turbine or generate steam to power a generator. This one looks like a conventional PV panel. Does anyone know if these will actually appear on the market soon, and are they worth waiting for?
Here is one much hyped version in the press:


  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,319 admin
    This link has a bit more technical information (which the manufacturer's website is sorely lacking):

    Basically an ~8.5:1 concentrator (10:1 before losses). 20 year warranty. Claim 1 axis tracking gains about 20% and 2 axis would gain about 30%.

    Guess would be that this collector will end up gathering about the same amount of energy per square foot/meter. Aim from article is ~$3.00/watt installed system price (with California rebates which is around $2.75/watt... CA+Fed rebate/credits end up to be about 30% on system today).

    Cost of collector:

    Today retail is about $10/watt installed. Installed with Rebates/Credits is about $6/watt. To reach $3/watt would need to save $3/watt.

    If retail panels are about $4-$5 per watt, then these panel would need to be in the $1-$2 per watt range.

    If panels are $5/watt retail and 1/10 the silicon usage, that is about $0.50 per watt of "silicon" retail costs, leaves about $0.50-$1.00 per watt for mechanical/lenses/packaging.

    A 175 watt panel would cost about $85 to $175--a lot better than the $800 per panel retail today...

    My system electrical costs (after rebates) is about $0.14 to $0.17 / kWhr (power gen/25 years)... Cut that by 1/2 ($3 instead of $6 per installed watt), you are down to $0.07 to $0.09 per kWhr--certainly as cheap or cheaper than utility power today--and much cheaper if you are in a high cost state with heavy loads like A/C (~$0.30 per kWhr).

    My concerns are if the mechanical and optical components can survive roof top conditions for 20+ years. Trackers and sealing optics is a difficult feat for those conditions (IMHO--maybe close to impossible at those low of prices).

    Wait and see.

    -Bill "Eeyore" B.
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • VicVic Solar Expert Posts: 3,201 ✭✭✭✭
    Hi tucson..

    I have not looked into this or any other "promising" alternative solar collection approach, But, there will seem to be always something to wait for, perhaps like waiting for the technology to settle in the computer arena. Things may not ever seem settled, and those who are waiting might never have a computer

    It would take a very long time for any new technology to settle down and get the bugs worked out. So, if you have a need for an RE system now, or soon, waiting is probably not a good idea. Personally, I have never liked being on the bleeding edge.

    But, someone will need to make the plunge, mabe it is you.

    Off Grid - Two systems -- 4 SW+ 5548 Inverters, Surrette 4KS25 1280 AH X2@48V, 11.1 KW STC PV, 4X MidNite Classic 150 w/ WBjrs, Beta KID on S-530s, MX-60s, MN Bkrs/Boxes.  25 KVA Polyphase Kubota diesel,  Honda Eu6500isa,  Eu3000is-es, Eu2000,  Eu1000 gensets.  Thanks Wind-Sun for this great Forum.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    to my knowledge those won't last very long as no solar cells at this point in commercial production can take multiple suns for very long timeperiods without degrading. this is usually thin films that they use and nobody is boasting be it thin film, mono, or multi to last longer under high intensity multi-sun light strengths. under normal conditions they give up to 20 years now for nearly all of them with a nominal loss of 20%. life expectancy will be a few years with the troughs unless they clog with dirt lowering the solar intensity and thus the power output. what good are they as they are just regular pvs being fried? buy standard pvs.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Thanks for the input. I also think that this is yet to be proven reliable. I was attracted to the cost reduction, because at this time current PV panels are no way cost effective, as far as I can tell. The payback calculators online show about a 47 year payback in my case, and if you consider the opportunity cost of the money invested - the payback is never. Even without this technology the cost of conventional PV panels should come down in a few years. Surely the Chinese will dominate this market also - and sell them at Walmart. They already sell small Chinese systems at Harbor Freight.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,319 admin
    This tracking panel, from the mfg's website, says that residential installations would begin in 2008--commercial buildings should be happening around now...

    Solar is expensive--so conservation is always the first place to start... With a lot of work, got my 3 bedroom home down to 200-300 kWhrs per month (gas appliances, central forced air heating, use a laptop PC a lot). If I really watch the lights, I can get down to ~175 kWhrs per month. With the fridge and freezer being probably 80-90kWhrs a month of that.

    My 3kW peak (PTC) Grid Tie system is probably $0.14-$0.17 per kWhr (installed cost -CA rebates-tax credits / 25 year life). My summer rates are $0.30/kWhr peak and $0.09/kWhr off peak (300 kWhr / month or less usage).

    If you live in an area with high power rates and use A/C and/or other large monthly loads that allows Grid Tie / Net Metering--you don't have to match all of your usage--just the upper tier pricing which can be $0.30+ per kWhr.

    Grid Tie solar can pretty much save you money at those higher rates (assuming you live in an area with good sun).

    If you are off-grid--I think Solar PV system with batteries already is cheaper than a pure generator system... With the price of fuel, you are probably already pretty close to $0.50 to $1.00/kWhr just in fuel costs. Also, with batteries, if you need to use the generator (winter/etc.), you can charge at optimum generator load for a few hours, and run on battery only for the rest of the day instead of running a large generator (sized for, example, A/C) with a few small loads (washer, TV) the rest of the time (I saw one place that called this their "hybrid" system).

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Grid electricity is about $.09 per kw here in Tucson (rates are headed up - my guess is 18-25% in the next few years), and there are no peak/off peak usage big rate breaks with the local power company that I am aware of.

    No matter how it is sliced or diced - 1 kw of pv panels installed is more like $10,000 - $12,000 around here, and I can't get past the rate of return on that lump sum of cash invested elsewhere. A modest 3 kw system would be $30,000 invested - @ 5% safe return is $1500 per year to be used toward conventional grid powered electricity - with conservation that might just cover all power cost. Figure 10% historical stock market returns over a long period of amortization of the PV panels and you get $3000 return per year - $250 per month toward electricity, which is quite extravagant living, in my opinion. On top of that, our local power company still charges a flat monthly service fee even if you generate excess electricity, they zero out any excess electricity at the end of the year (you lose it), they credit excess energy at wholesale rates, etc. - so you still don't get full economic benefit from PV panels over here.

    So, solar will never payback in my locale.

    Also, I think current PV panels have some risk of storm damage, vandalism, etc. over their lifetime, which adds another element of risk.

    I think everyone agrees that conservation is the big payback, and it certainly makes PV investment more cost effective. That is where I will put my energy until I see solar cheap enough to make economic sense.

    If I ever get a cabin in the woods off the grid I will certainly get a small scale solar set up to play with - but I am sure that is 3-4 years away.

    Thanks for the input.
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