At midnight, Monday night, the word was out: The new SunPower C7 Tracker was unveiled. As the solar industry gathered in Dallas for Solar Power International (SPI) this week, they sure talked up this new concentrated PV tracking system. The SunPower® C7 Tracker concentrates the sun’s power seven times, delivering the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale power plants – up to 20 percent lower than competing technologies.
Who’s behind this high-efficiency, cost effective C7 Tracker technology? The credit goes to SunPower President Emeritus Dick Swanson, Ph.D., whose vision for solar concentrator-based power plants stretches back four decades.
When the “first” energy crisis swept the U.S. in the 1970s, Dr. Swanson dreamed of constructing solar power plants in arid desert regions of the American Southwest. In those locales, he believed, the U.S. could easily convert the sun’s energy into usable power, and help reduce the country’s (and the planet’s) dependence on fossil fuels. However, Dr. Swanson was far ahead of the game. The market for utility-scale solar plants would not mature for many years. So SunPower changed course and adapted the high efficiency solar cell it had developed for concentrators for use in traditional flat solar panels —the most efficient panels on the market today.
Fast forward to year-end 2010, when the global cumulative installed solar capacity reached 40 gigawatts. As the demand for solar around the world has grown, so has the demand for solar power plants. We built the world’s first 10-megawatt solar power plant in 2004 in Germany, and SunPower will have more than 400 megawatts of power plants operating around the world by the end of 2011. All of these plants have used solar panels on single-axis trackers.
For the past three years, however, our development teams have had lengthy dialogues with utility companies and solar power plant developers, assessing their needs. In response, SunPower engineers – who have unparalleled expertise in cells, modules, trackers, electronics and performance – collaborated in crafting a concentrated tracking product that leverages a decade of experience in reliable tracking systems and delivers the best economics over the long term. On October 18, with the release of the C7 Tracker, their efforts came to fruition… and Dr. Swanson’s dream became reality.