CPV? maybe that was last week’s focus? The Amonix 7700s have been in the field and operational at Hatch New Mexico for a year now.. And 30 Mega Watts worth in Alamosa Colorado. All we hear is the sound of silence….And this follows a blitzkrieg style marketing campaign… even the NREL joined in!
Here’s a few important paragraphs for reference, what follows are snippets from an NREL page, short on time? Scroll to the bullet items.
Martha Symko-Davies, a senior supervisor at NREL, recalled that most concentrator companies could not see the benefits of switching to new-generation solar cells, but Amonix was different, conducting research and development with NREL to overcome stiff challenges.
The first NREL/Amonix project led to a larger award in 2007 from DOE for $15.6 million leveraged by an additional $18 million of investor funds, which helped make the transition to manufacturing of the Amonix 7700 at the company’s facility in Seal Beach, Calif.
Amonix has 15 years of experience developing CPV systems, while NREL has a record of more than three decades of research and development in PV technologies. The fruitful partnership, incorporating the high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell with Amonix’s flagship CPV system, came about through the High-Performance PV Project funded by the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program.
Other DOE-funded support came from the Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Pathway Partnership programs. DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories and Brookhaven National Laboratory also facilitated the scale-up of this project.
A conundrum was how to use the highly efficient cells without breaking the bank. Researchers solved that problem by teaming an inexpensive Fresnel lens — at less than $2 a pop — with each of the 7,560 high efficiency solar cells that make up one 53-kilowatt 7700 system. The 500-power amplification of the Fresnel lens allowed the solar cells to be tiny — thus a small fraction of the cost of bigger cells — while still packing record-setting efficiency.
There were other hurdles to clear, too.
Researchers developed a new receiver package of cells and lenses to ensure that the cells would not short out. They solved the distortion problem that happens when a lens doesn’t focus all colors on the same convergence point. And they overcame the thermal issues that crop up when a cell has to handle the intensity of 500 suns.
Their efforts were rewarded in the form of $130 million in private equity financing in 2010.
Here’s the NREL page.
Can we parse and analyze the above paragraphs together? Maybe we just make bullet items of the statements.
- Amonix was different
- A need to overcome stiff challenges
- Amonix a 15 year old Company
- The fruitful partnership, incorporating the high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell with Amonix’s flagship CPV system, came about through the High-Performance PV Project funded by the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program.
- Researchers solved that problem by teaming an inexpensive Fresnel lens — at less than $2 a pop
- Researchers developed a new receiver package of cells and lenses to ensure that the cells would not short out.
We need keep in mind some of the basic facts as we analyze the many articles we find on the WEB and in news print, and do ask yourself, can you find a single article anywhere that questions anything to do with this project?
Here’s my quick observations:
Amonix is a 15 year old company that tells us that they have tested eight generations of the 7700 trackers. Considering that the only real test of a single generation is to stick it out in a field for it’s expected life time, how’d they do that?
The NREL boasts that working together with Amonix, they solved a lot of problems. I think the Solar industry gives testament that you don’t know what problems were solved without a field test.
Oh yes, and the mention of a new receiver package they developed, and how they overcame thermal issues.. Oh really? And.. they overcame this in the LAB, or in the field? Yes, here we have an admission that much is new and not yet field tested.
I do remember all the effort that went into the formulation of a plastic sheath used for outside telephone cables. The study was long and tedious, and some might even know that lead was used as a sheath in the very early days of Telco outside plant. In some of the areas where this new plastic was used, it was found that there were holes being bored into the sheath, and it was found that an insect was doing it. Yessir.. those folks at the lab forgot to sprinkle a generous amount of bugs on the plastic to see if any were interested in chewing on it I guess. this is just an example of reality, the only good test is a field test exactly where you are going to set up business, and since every site is different, every deployment can deliver unexpected results.
Regardless of all the hype, regardless of all the efforts Man makes to accelerate life cycle testing, he is constantly reminded of the many variables and has learned that nothing takes the place of sticking the product out in the field and testing it exactly where it will be used.
With this said, let’s look at what the NREL and Amonix have done together, with a brand new and not so tested product; they put five megawatts worth in Hatch New Mexico, but before they could test a thing, we see another 30 Megawatt Amonix 7700 power plant go in at Alamosa Colorado.
The articles released to the news papers, bloggers, and AE industry read like a story book. Proven leaders, Amonix is ready to launch an IPO, commentators read the news releases without a single question, Guy Blanchard (Amonix) makes himself available to charm the believers, and all he really need do is repeat the Amonix Mantra “we are the leaders in low cost commercial grade CPV power plants” or similar words, watch the Face to Face Jon Ralston conducted in Las Vegas, home of the Production Facility for Amonix. go to the Las Vegas Sun today 6/12/12 and do a search with the key word Amonix.. Yes! Now that the Las Vegas Sun has something other than big talk to cover, all you get out of them is a big yawn, if you could talk to them privately, they might tell you the circus is coming to town, and people want to read about that, not facts about Solar CPV.
Not a single person in the whole AE community is willing to ask questions, like how did you accomplish all of this, and do you have a single tracker in service where we can look at the maintenance records, the power production figures, the true cost per KWH, or do we need take your word for it?
And now the facts:
Let’s visit those websites that cut and pasted the Amonix NREL promotional articles, are there any followup articles? Is there any interest at all now that the Amonix 7700s are real and in service?
Does the public have any access to the power production data? What maintenance problems have their been in the field at Hatch? how about at Alamosa?
And.. how are these brand new and totally untested receivers doing?
The facts according to my observations is there is absolutely no one in the entire AE community who has any interest in helping to police the industry, and help assure that the best technology rises to the top.
What we have now is profoundly troublesome, and entire industry without a watch dog, or perhaps, we do have them, but they’ve been neutered and had their teeth pulled.
What lies in the field at Hatch? What lies in the Field at Alamosa? Oh yes, it was world news until it became a reality, but now….. there no interest at all?
It wasn’t that long ago, the solar industry was full of facts and figures, and you sold your products on their merit alone. Today, those who have less than a clue have made available so many different incentives,that it’s difficult to tell if the Solar PV array need make even a watt of power for most of the players to be happy, at least at the beginning of the game.
We see how Journalists, Commentators, AE bloggers, and more seem to grow disinterested once something becomes a reality. This is exactly opposite of other technologies, and there coud be a reason for that.
There is no better study, than reality, and the Amonix power plant at Hatch New Mexico is just that… ‘Reality’.
The only player in this game I mostly understand is ‘EPE’, El Paso Electric. regardless of what they think of Solar PV at this time, they are a pawn on the chess board, but I think they are the smartest piece on the board. They are forced to play by the mandate of the State, and this is likely driven by the citizens who believe that Solar is a good investment.
NextEra, I know I haven’t figured out this entity yet, it seems they were rewarded a large chunk of money in incentives, loans, awards.. .who can keep it all straight? But the fac tis, they know they’ve bought a ‘PIG in a POKE’, they are not so dumb, and they know there is no way this version of the Amonix 7700 has been life cycle tested, YET they signed a 25 year long contract with EPE! The other thing they know is the 7700 has never seen an environment exactly like Hatch, high winds, blowing sand and dust, days you can’t see the sun through all the blowing dust, and those receivers, yes, the NREL says they’re new, so what to expect? The terms of the contract between NextEra and EPE are what we need look at to know the Game. EPE wants to be left whole, they know they need pay a penalty if they don’t buy renewables as a percentage mandated by the state. They might ask NextEra to pay those penalties if they don’t deliver the KWHs promised in the contract, but d they care beyond that? I’d expect there is some agreement in there to break the contract at the end of any year, and the EPE might go back to the State and Argue they are not to be held accountable to meet a percentage of renewables when they are not available.
The KWHs of production promised by NextEra tell us only part of the story.. who pays if the plant fails to perform?
The Village of Hatch? They lease the ground that all this equipment sits on. I would imagine if the lease payments stop, they’ll be in a good position to file in court for the salvage rights if nothing else.
Note to bloggers, stay away from hatch and Alamosa, don’t be there in the AM to take pictures and see how many trackers are unable to meet the morning sun, don’t ask about the real power production figures, the real maintenance costs, or a darned thing, just sit back and let the marketeers drop the articles in your lap, and repost them.
When the public finally catches on that there is no one watching the hen house, when they drive by fields of junk, let’s put the blame where it belongs. The AE industry should self police, and if they don’t, they bring about their own destruction.
We can’t blame the NREL, they have masters, and they must obey, for the rest of us? What’s our excuse?
How about some facts? If you know where they are, how about sharing a link under comments?
As for the Las Vegas Sun, we should expect their next story on Amonix when someone gives it to them.. how sad it is, but in fairness, the only difference between them and the rest of the world is the story lays at their feet.
two posts to review:
Here’s a good place (below) to study the actual power production of the Hatch Power Plant. My Question is: Will someone put pressure on EPE to take this down? As I have posted elsewhere, it’s important for you to consult the weather data, and note the wind gusts, cloud cover and other factors that impact power production here. My thanks to EPE for sharing information with their customers, this is what I like about power companies, they have a strong incentive to be forthright and honest with their customers, regulators, investors, and partners.
I have plenty of other pages up on the Amonix power plants, and in my opinion they have been underperforming, the data that has been available via EPE shows best hours at less that 3800KW for a power plant rated at 5040KW, but many day light hours produce zero, due to wind gusts. Look at the data. Reports of tracks not tracking, and even pictures of trackers not tracking.. if they want our tax dollars, this better become an open book..
I’ve put effort into sharing the facts as I think I see them, I totally understand that reality is most difficult to find at times, and I ask that you share your reality with me if you see it different than I share here.. Comments are easy, make one..
Added note: 6/27/12
Here’s a brutal reminder of today’s reality, there is every kind of certification, and so few have any bearing on the actual performance of the product in the field.
Just where is that ‘follow up’ on the NREL pages? Finally! they have a real product to study, in a real environment, and there seems to be no interest… It reminds me of a space craft returning with moon rocks, and no one being interested in studying them, it begs us to ask.. what is the prime mission of the NREL?