CPV is looking good in 2011.

The latest CPV news in a series of recent encouraging developments is a one-megawatt concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) plant by SolFocus for an agribusiness application in California’s Central Valley.

SolFocus, Bechtel Power, and developer Sol Orchard just announced that the 1-megawatt CPV power plant was completed for Nichols Farms in Hanford, California. Nichols Farms grows and processes pistachios (recipes here).

This is the latest in a string of distributed generation projects that SolFocus has completed. It looks to ship about 20 megawatts this year, a record for the company in what will certainly be a record year for the CPV sector as a whole.

The SolFocus installation will produce roughly 70 percent of the processing facility's electricity demand. The power plant is on six acres adjacent to the pistachio processing facility and consists of 119 of SolFocus' 8.8-kilowatt CPV systems. The CPV plant was designed and built by Bechtel, and is now connected to the regional electrical grid serviced by SoCal Edison.

Pistachio nuts have to be processed soon after harvest, so the processing plant has a very "lumpy" pattern of power consumption. At certain times of the year, the plant is operating 24/7. Distributed generation like this CPV installation allows the processing plant to keep energy usage costs under control and avoid premium pricing due to "peaky" usage patterns.

Chuck Nichols, the owner of Nichols Farms, said that he selected CPV because of its "high energy yield" and "superior environmental footprint."

The SolFocus system uses a 650X concentration with semiconductors from JDSU and Spectrolab with dual-axis tracking. CPV uses no water in energy production, has a small land footprint with dual-use potential, and has no permanent shadowing or wildlife corridor disruption. SolFocus claims that "CPV provides the shortest energy payback and lowest greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of any solar technology," adding: "In solar-rich regions, SolFocus CPV technology yields significantly more energy than other technologies."

SolFocus has solved some of CPV's "bankability" issues by having their systems backed by Munich Re performance insurance.  

I spoke with Mark Crowley, the CEO, and Nancy Hartsoch, VP Marketing at SolFocus on Thursday morning as they prepared for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site. This makes about 4 megawatts that SolFocus has put in the ground over the last year and the firm looks towards continued agribusiness applications, as well as continued relationships with Sol Orchard and Bechtel Power.

While SolFocus continues to work on lowering hardware costs, Crowley sees the partnership with Bechtel as an opportunity to lower balance-of-system and installation costs as California's Central Valley adopts more of this type of distributed generation projects. Crowley said, "Bechtel's expertise in large project management can come to play in making CPV more effective."

Other recent news in CPV: Soitec's 150-megawatt project and factory plans, JDSU's entry into the market, technology advances from Solar Junction, Semprius, and ZenithSolar, as well as a big PPA between Amonix and SCE.