In September of last year, JDSU, the optical networking, laser and coatings expert, announced that they were entering the CPV market as a chip supplier. Today they acquired the assets of U.K.-based CPV chip startup QuantaSol. JDSU (NASDAQ: JDSU and TSX: JDU) plans to leverage QuantaSol’s multiple quantum well (MQW) technology for its CPV product platform, a technology with the potential to improve cell efficiency.

QuantaSol's investors include Imperial Innovations and Low Carbon Accelerator. The acquisition price was not disclosed and it can be assumed that it was not a windfall for the investors (Update: the price was $638,000 with possible additional payments).

The CPV market has seen a run of financing in the last few weeks; $16.5 million for Morgan Solar, $20 million for Semprius, and $17 million for Greenvolts; all aspiring systems vendors are trailing leaders SolFocus, Amonix, and Soitec.

One of the chicken-and-egg problems that has long plagued CPV is the cost and supply of the triple-junction compound semiconductor solar cell that performs the actual photovoltaic conversion. The low-volume supply chain for these chips has depended on somewhat dysfunctional suppliers Emcore and Spectrolab.  Emcore has a history of losing money, questionable management and flirting with entering the CPV system business. Spectrolab makes a quality product, but both of these firms, with a history of supplying the space and satellite market, have found the transition to commercial manufacturing a bit of a cultural stretch.

A few VC-funded startups -- Solar Junction, Cyrium and QuantaSol -- are aiming to provide chips to the system vendors.  But the market remains relatively low volume and has not taken off like the flat solar panel market with its massive volumes and plunging prices.

We have long claimed that if the CPV market ever did start to take off, larger semiconductor vendors would take notice and follow with their III/V material chip entries.  We had suggested that a fitting candidate could be an LED supplier, as a triple-junction solar cell is approximately a reverse LED.  But JDSU's entry, with its distinctive optical pedigree in lasers from a long-ago acquisition of SDL, makes a certain amount of sense.

I spoke with Jan Gustav-Werthen, the Director of JDSU's photovoltaic group, about the acquisition.

Werthen said in a previous interview, "We aim to be number-one cell supplier in the world. If we didn't think we could be number one, we wouldn't enter the market."  Werthen spoke of JDSU's "vast and deep" experience in III/V semiconductors and their internal capacity and strength in epitaxial growth for their lasers.

Werthen expects that the CPV business "will be taking off in 2011 and 2012 and will be a substantial business by 2020."  He foresees 30 percent module efficiency on the horizon, with cell efficiencies increasing at about one percent per year. Cell efficiencies eventually will be in the 50 percent range.

Multiple quantum wells have been used in laser diodes for decades; it is a technology with which JDSU is very familiar. In an interview this morning, Werthen said he demonstrate cell efficiency improving from 39 percent to 41 percent in less than a year.  

It remains to be seen if JDSU can help enable the CPV market with innovation or cost savings.

JDSU has a market capitalization of $3.85 billion.

GTM Research's in-depth CPV market forecast is here.