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PHOTOVOLTAIC CONCENTRATOR SYSTEMS FACING THE PROBLEMS OF

COMMERCIALIZATION

Gabriel Sala, Ignacio Anton


Instituto de Energía Solar
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

ABSTRACT modules. The temperature of the cells was found


excessively higher than the original designed value, and
After 30 years of concentrator development and the heat sink assembly was not enough to cool down the
practically no one industrial nor commercial activities the cells”.
PVC market seems ready to start and to grow fast due to
feed in tariff laws approved in several sunny countries, as (These are practically the same words that have
Spain and Italy. been used to explain results of more recent PVC
demonstrations; In spite those problems Soleras plant
The lack of official qualification normative should longed 18 years in operation.
not allow commercializing unproven technologies.
Responsible commercialization requires asking Although there was no market pressure, RD
manufacturers a set of minimum requisites before Nasby at Sandia developed 20% efficient Si concentrator
contracting and installing new power plants. cells in 1980 which allow increasing increase the
expectations of cost reduction of concentrators and PV in
In this paper an historical revision of PVC past general, because the majority of efficiency records came
and lost opportunities is combined with a portrait of the from cells developed for concentrator applications.
new clients and a description, as example ,of a PVC
power plant call for tenders including contracting So clear was the understanding that efficiency
conditions. was a key factor for this technology that R. Swanson and
his team at Stanford University, after the experiences of
INTRODUCTION: AN HISTORICAL REVISION RJ Schwartz, developed the best Si cell ever made to be
The development of PV concentrator technology used at high concentration level.(>150X) [3]
started effectively by 1976 at National Sandia Laboratories The tremendous scientific and technical success
with the construction of 1kW peak array, later called of the Stanford University group, did not receive the
Sandia I and Sandia II.[1] expected attention from the market. The level of
This early work identified and tried to solve the concentration required good optics and fine tracking, but
majority of problems linked to C-Systems and gave the poor answer did not allow further developments or
enough satisfactory answers to many of them. demonstrations.
Fresnel lenses, two axis tracking, concentrator Although there were several C-Cells developed in
silicon cells at 40X, analog closed loop tracking system the world, with efficiencies ranging from 19,6% of UPM to
were the characteristics of such pioneering prototype. 28% of Swanson, the production capacity was poor and
the main characteristics of concentrator cells during two
Several imitations, in some cases with decades and half has been scarcity. The rare investors
components improvement, were soon carried out in that were called by PV concentration “marvels” were
France, Italy and Spain with prototypes ranging 500W to discouraged when they discovered that C-cells were not
1kW. available or that the cost ratio with flat module cells was
Few PV companies paid attention to those larger than the concentrator gain.
developments and still less tried to develop more efficient An alternative to the idea of high concentration
cells to improve the economy of such systems. that requires specialized cells and tracking, was the
A pre-industrial, but not yet commercial, effort concept of static concentration presented by Winston
was carried out in 1981 by Martin Marietta with the version (1975), [4]which was improved with the bifacial cell of
III of Sandia Technology, who installed a 350 kWp Luque (1976).[5]
Demonstration plant in Saudi Arabia, called SOLERAS [2] Once bifacial cell was in production several
Six years later the project responsible wrote:” prototypes were developed by Isofoton and UPM, imitated
later by others. This was a product with no one of the
“This PVPS has been operating very well in the concentrator drawbacks: it was static, modular as a flat
hot desert environment since its inception, however the panel, 12 volts nominal and able to collect and
net permanent power is degraded by 20% due to 11 / concentrate diffuse radiation. But the commercialization
ceramic substrates solder joint delamination problem by never started because the introduction of a new product
the daily thermal cycling and fatigue, short circuit was uncertain and expensive: The investment required to
problems, and water penetration/condensation inside the produce this product was really small, but the margin of

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cost reduction was probably not sufficient to justify the yearly energy conversion ratio at much lower cost than flat
efforts. Bifacial cells are still an interesting product that plate power plant at these times.[9]
can operate in high latitudes, snowy regions or acting as
wall structures. These cells were also used by Entech in their
lineal concentrators.
Neither the ideas of spectrum separation of 1980
at Varian, nor the European record of PV-EYE, reaching A 480 kWp EUCLIDES demonstration plant was
29.7% with two cells (AsGa and Si) at levels near 800X in erected in Tenerife under the enthusiastic management of
1991 [6] pushed any realistic attempt to industrialize BP Solar. Several problems associated to new receiver
concentrators manufacturing and some over estimation of concentrator
benefits pushed BP Solar to abandon instead of solving
LOST OPPORTUNITIES the manufacturing defects. During the merging with
Amoco-Solarex concentrator plans were practically
The permanent scarcity of concentrator solar abandoned, although they continue manufacturing short
cells did not help the presence of new actors in the PVC series of Concentrator SATURN cells for R&D
field. But, who were and still are these possible actors? projects.[10]
If we take into account that 70 to 80 % of system Finally, the fast growth of conventional market in
cost are not attributed to solar cells is easy to understand (1997-98) adsorbed all intellectual and material capacities
that companies of several sectors pushed to enter into PV of BP Solar to increase conventional cell and module
market to produce power plants buying the cells to others. production.
Conventional PV has not been imagined as The great European investment on EUCLIDES
possible alternative or significant source of electricity for concentrator technology creates a wave of activities in this
developed countries till recently with the fast change of field, many centered on the use of Saturn cells (ZSW) but
energy scenarios and climatic change evidence. also others in Si spacecraft cells (ASE; LETI, Democritos)
The non professional PV market was assumed to and still others based on BPC cells.(Ferrara Univ.).
consist only of undeveloped countries applications, Also the groups and companies developing AsGA
houses yielding social prestige or satisfaction to ecological and tandem and III-V cells in general become more active
feelings. And the commercial effort was pointed in such on concentrator receivers, testing methods, optics and C-
directions. In this framework there was not room for “ugly”
systems (FhG-ISE, Isofoton, Ioffe) as results of subsidies
trackers or big plants required by PVC`s. given to projects on this field. The set of funded projects
In this scenario the private industrial efforts in cover concentration levels from 2 to 1000X.
optics, cooling, tracking mechanism and tracking control In several cases concentrator technology has
systems were practically negligible. been confused with “over illumination of conventional
The most significant industrialization action was modules”, which is in general a poor exercise, because
undoubtedly carried out by ENTECH who installed several over temperature and I2R loses consumes practically the
hundreds of kW peak using there 20X curved Fresnel lens extra power generated and because the cells and module
technology.[7] materials are overheated reducing their life time.
The last opportunity for classic Silicon cell In summary it can be said that the main result of
concentrators, this is, those arrays that tried to reduce the this financing effort was to create a relatively large number
system cost just decreasing the cells area of quasi- of researchers and specialists on PVC that will contribute
conventional cells by a factor ranging from 2 to 100, was to the current rising industrialization and commercialization
linked to SATURN technology, an industrial result of the CURRENT OPPORTUNITIES AND DRAWBACKS
outstanding progress of New South Wales University on
crystalline silicon cells. By 2004 the run towards 40% efficient MJ solar
cells was already on. European R&D groups in Russia,
Concentrator SATURN cells, (known as Laser Germany and Spain, universities, institutes and
Grooved Buried Contact Cells) shows near uniform
companies had clear a model of business based on tiny
voltage in its metal grid and low recombination surface III-V MJ cells operating in integrated concentrators
which allow reaching 18% efficiency at 30X and up to 20% operating over 400X. [11]
in small cells (1 cm 2) at 100 X. [8]
The leading results in USA and Japan, that have
These cell were very convenient to be used in reached the world top efficiencies show the way to others.
Concentrator systems because their 1 sun version is
probably more expensive than conventional cells of These proven figures of efficiency are the first
competitors per watt peak. But used as concentrator cells milestone in the way to manufacturing and
sized 125X125 mm2, and designed for 30X could be paid commercialization of PVC systems in the short term.
at 10 € each which should be very attractive to BP Solar.
Next landmark in the path to the new
The opportunity for this technology opened in concentration era is the maturity of MOCVD equipment
1995 with the EUCLIDES technology. It proved in the which has became the necessary and nearly sufficient tool
Madrid prototype up to 14% power efficiency and 10% for III-V cell progress. All groups owning such equipment

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will probably succeed developing MJ cells if they contract The need of sun tracking of concentrators has
experts on single junction III-V cells. been traditionally argued as one weakness of these
systems because its failure cuts totally the energy
Ten years is probably the average time required generation and requires maintenance. Against this
to reach about 35% efficiency in this field starting at single argument it can be said that trackers are not so complex:
junction III-V concentrator cells. If one starts at a higher they have just two motors or actuators turning very few
level of knowledge then this time is shorten. time and that the arrays just turn 180º per day. Control
Several new companies will probably buy the system, based on direct sun position or astronomical
cells, or license know how and buy MOCVD reactors. The ephemeredes will be reliable as soon as they become
battle to contract specialist will start soon. professionally made, not just designed and built by
research groups for a prototype or just a pilot line.
As usual in the short history of concentrators
optics is always less mature than semiconductor Evidence for this statement is that the control
converting devices. This fact suggest that surprises or boxes of EUCLIDES-Tenerife, that were build by Inspira,
improvements are possible in the future because there are have demonstrated to be reliable along last ten years.
unexplored alternatives, but one type of solution seems It has been argued that PVC tracking allows
the best prepared to dominate the market in early times: compensate the lost diffuse radiation, usually collected by
“Tiny, millimeter range diameter MJ cells, under Fresnel flat modules, due to normal light incidence on the collector
lenses with f-number ranging 1 to 1.5. The product and by averaged higher intensity level operation of the
resulting is a compact or integrated concentrator dc/ac inverter.
module as thin as the frame of conventional modules,
about 4-6 cm thick, which constitutes a convincing basis But this comparative advantage is not currently
for next PVC development and commercialization. valid because many grid connected plants have mounted
their arrays on trackers, resulting that the current
The old, but not yet large scale exploited Silicon competitor of a PVC power plant is a field made of flat
BPC solar cells, sized about 1 cm2, can play a great modules mounted on large tracking arrays that is able to
transitory role in the PVC market development because produce 25-to 30% more energy in sunny climates than
the product is ready and the cell fabrication and receiver the static arrays.
making is well proven and consequently is assumed
reliable. Amonix has licensed its technology to Guascor In consequence the comparison of available
Foton (Spain) and two companies, one in USA and other radiation of PVC and currently flat panel plant is
in Spain are producing and selling 25kW, 2 axis tracking approximately the relation direct radiation/global normal
arrays for power plants based on such BPC cells. radiation.
The large parabolic dishes of the Australian If now we assume that this figure is 0.80 and that
company Solar Systems are equipped with these Si-BPC optical efficiency of PVC ranges 80% then we can state
cells in their focus area to produce about 25kW per that we cast only 64% of available light on the
tracking dish. concentrator cell.
The key opportunity for PVC is the feed-in tarifs Assuming that conventional modules are 15%
laws stated in Spain ,and more recently in Italy, the two efficient we must conclude that minimum efficiency
sunniest countries of the EU. Feed-in tariff opened the allowed to concentrator cells is 23,4 % in order to equal
“power plant grid-connected market”: the dreamed one by the energy production of flat module arrays of same
concentrator makers in two decades. collector area.
Silicon feedstock shortage created by fast In summary, the efficiency of concentrator cells
market growth is also giving an unexpected opportunity to must be at least 24% in order to be cost competitive with
concentrators to enter in the market. The challenge is to flat panels. Although can be argued that concentrator BOS
do things well enough to remain in the market after the can be cheaper in some cases, the commercial success
silicon scarcity. for lower efficiency will be a problem. In the long term with
equalized system BOS the challenge will be located in the
The envisaged crisis of several industrial fields of cell efficiency, installation and maintenance costs.
sectors, like the automobile one in first world countries, is
opening their interest on new business: PVC calls their REQUIREMENTS TO PVC
interest because a great part of the added value is not on
cells but in the elements that they can design and Standards and norms have been developed
manufacture in a very clever and competitive way. and approved for conventional PV technology. It forced to
reach a minimum quality level that protected small
They already own land, factory buildings, tools customers and final users and provided references and
and well skilled personnel. They are ready to invest and quality labels to manufacturers and dealers.
enter the market if the traditional question, posed by all
new PVC investors, “who can sell me concentrator cells? In current PVC the situation is practically
“where are the cells” is positively answered. reversed: there is no normative approved, the customers
are well acquainted of what they wish and prepare
contracts with good protections for their investments. But

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currently there is not any standard or normative approved COMERCIALIZATION OF PVC’s:
for PVC that clarifies the rules of the game and certifies
the quality of the products. Such regulated frame work is A CALL FOR TENDERS EXAMPLE
currently asked by PV companies and by clients. I am going to present as an example the draft of
The new customer of PVC is investing in the a call for tenders that will be issued by the new “Instituto
range of 5 M€. He can in consequence spend time and de Sistemas Fotovoltaicos de Concentracion” of
resources to prepare a safe contract to protect its money. Puertollano (Spain) that will install several MW of different
They know about performance ratio, kW.h/kWp and do not PVC technologies.
pay too much attention to efficiency. He is interested just Plants ranging from 300 to 1500 kW will be
in production. proposed for quotation. The companies will be required to
Ion some cases customers are a little confused fulfill three groups of requisites that we refer here as A, B
about statistical radiation data and averaged expected and C.
production with the actual production in a short time Group A requisites have the objective to assure
period. Such misunderstanding causes reclamations, reliability and good performance to components by
according with contract clauses, when the actual radiation accelerate aging tests. This is a previous condition
is under the average. In order to avoid these problems the required to sign a purchase contract because group A
manufacturers will install radiation recorders in order to requisites are the ones assuring a reasonable system
demonstrate that temporary lower production is linked to lifetime producing energy.
lower radiation.
In case the current draft IEC 62108-8D “Design
The most usual contract is turn key. The qualification and type approval for Concentration Modules
selection of the inverter becomes a responsibility of the and Assemblies” was already approved by IEC, Group A
plant seller who usually buys it to a third party. requirements will become simply to pass this norm.
The operation of inverters with concentrators is But in the present situation we will ask to the
limited. From one side they operate mostly at high power companies a certificate to have passed the following tests:
level what is is positive. But from other side the variations
of direct light intensity on cells due to clouds or wind Reliability Tests (Group A Requisites)
induced tracking inaccuracies, etc. are fast and requires i) Electrical Insulation test: dry and wet.
the DC/DC maximum power point tracking to be also fast.
Several protections against inverter instabilities can made ii) Thermal cycling plus damp heat test
its control system too slow, losing too much energy. These
iii) Hail impact test
characteristics should be checked by the plant seller
before reaching agreements with the inverter maker. iv) Humidity freeze, water spray tests
High efficiency of the inverter at low irradiance v) By-pass diode thermal, hot spot test
levels is not a figure of merit in PVC applications because
the power level is usually high. The ability to track fast vi) Off-axis damage tests
and accurately the maximum power point becomes the The procedures described in the mentioned IEC
main requirement for PVC grid connected systems. 62108 draft will the ones used in all these tests.
FACING THE INITIAL PROBLEMS OF PVC’s IN THE As the norm is not yet approved there is not any
MARKET ready nor officially credited laboratory to carry out all these
All problems will come from following facts: tests. In consequence we will share the tests according to
the equipment available in different credited centers in
a) The products are new, manufacturing is Spain and Europe and will coordinate the pass/no pass
starting and experience is small. verification in one sunny site in order to carry out the ‘pre-
normalization before the end of 2006.
b) The customers are requiring guaranties of total
energy production. Reliability and performance of tracking systems
In order to solve them in the transient period it is Tracking systems hardware can be separated
important to write carefully the purchase and delivery into two main elements Mechanic parts and electronic
contracts and to state clear procedures to rate the control systems.
installed power with the simplest and most widely
accepted methods. There are not yet standards nor drafts sufficiently
discussed to be used to qualify the design tracking
In order to guide the first steps of systems.
commercialization I have simulated to become a customer
of concentrator plants that faces the writing of a call for In order to accept one concentrator technology
tenders we will ask that the structure and mechanical system
have passed the following performance tests in presence
of a credited laboratory staff:

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Structure, mechanics and outdoor protection requisites for ii) Geometric and effective concentration level
trackers
iii) Electrical parameters: IV curve, dV/dT, dV/dC, dP/dT,
i) Stow position reachable without power grid. R series, nominal power output.
ii) Oscillating mechanical frequency iv) Acceptance angle, Transference function, Optical
mismatch (maximum)
iii) Maximum backslash for 50% of maximum wind load
within 50% of specified acceptance angle. Mechanical v) Internal specific thermal resistance (cell to heat sink)
resonance.
These parameters data are necessary to rate the
iv) Deformation and sun pointing within acceptance system power at standard test conditions for concentrators
angle for maximum operating wind or equivalent load. .(STC-C) and to calculate the expected energy production.
v) Pointing accuracy and wind within specification limits We are proposing the STC-C for power system
rating as the power output under 850 W/m2, cell
vi) Adequate robustness, corrosion protection according temperature at 25ºC and AM1,5 direct spectrum with a
to constructive existing standards. deviation within the characteristics of class A simulators.
On the other side the This definition of Standard Test Conditions for
Electric and electronic control system Concentrators allow customers to use the usual concepts
and values of Performance Ratio well known from flat
must pass the following requisites: panel installations and also to compare the price of PVC
i) Electromagnetic compatibility watt peak with the flat panel one.

ii) Overall approval of circuit design including outdoor THE PURCHASE CONTRACT
performance We will analyze contract conditions to be adopted
iii) Recovery of sun tracking and sun pointing after turn in a generic purchase of a PVC plant.
off or main failure Purchase contract with guaranty of yearly energy
iv) Pointing accuracy within specified acceptance angle production (Group C conditions)
and maximum wind conditions. This is one way to fix the PVC plant price. This
v) Control of alarms: stow position at rated maximum method is frequently agreed for flat module technology
wind, overheating control (if included) because performance ratio, loses, failure rate, and global
radiation in a site are well known as result of past
vi) Array maneuverIing in manual control mode. experiences.
vii) Remote monitoring check out (if included) But direct radiation data are very scarce and
must be calculated from data of horizontal global radiation,
viii) Self alignment and pointing self maintenance (if
which results in errors in the order of 12%. In addition to
included)
these errors in the average direct radiation there is still few
Passing the requisites of group A should provide experience modeling concentrator production. [See a
a reasonable confidence on the system reliability. Taking contribution to this conference in Poster session I. Area 3)
into account that PVC’s are new in the market the
We will not use this kind of contract. We prefer
requisites of Group A are mandatory to avoid any disaster
require the manufactures to be conscious of the problems
of negative consequences for the parts implied and for all
of its systems as soon as possible in order to correct them
rising PVC industry.
before massive fabrication.
A product not passing all requisites of group A
The next option, that is the one we will try to
should not be purchased till design modification allows
adopt in PVC acquisitions is based both on power rating
positive qualification just for the test not passed.
and production rating (=energy conversion efficiency).
Group B Requisites
Purchase contract with economic counterpart based
Specifications and characteristics of Systems, on actual A.C. rated peak power. (Group C)
Modules and Assemblies
In this modality the buyer will pay per peak power
Systems and sub-system specifications are measured in A.C. at each grid connected inverter output.
commonly provided by the manufacturer but must be Test conditions are corrected to STC-C. The price is
certified by an assuring laboratory. previously agreed as € per watt peak at STC-C.
The confidence in these figures is significant In case the rated power at STC-C deviate more
because they are used by customers to compare between than 20% of nominal power specified in Group B the
alternatives and to take purchasing decisions.. system will be rejected.
An example of Group B requested data follows: The rating of the system can and should be
carried out in two steps.
i) Nominal power at STC-C

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In the First Step the system is rated in DC, not their presence soon with high efficiency products that can
connected to grid. This initial rating is convenient to impact PV field in next years.
manufacturer because frequently the grid is not ready for
connection and partial payments can be agreed when More than 1MW has been already sold in Spain.
system is already able to operate in DC. Also the These pioneering industrial and commercial activities must
correction to STC-C must be carried out in DC operation, be helped as much as possible in order to avoid any
because they are function of cell properties, operating significant problem in their beginnings. The best guaranty
temperature and optical characteristics. for technical success is to qualify the system components
before deployment and to test the field performance of
This DC rating test at the field requires more than new products as soon as possible.
2
700 W/m direct radiation. The cell temperature can be
monitored by Voc measurement or in case the function The Institute of PVC systems of Puertollano will
Voc versus temperature and concentration level, help in this process guiding as much as possible the
Voc(T,C), was not available is measured the temperature companies and customers to reach reasonable
of the heat sink plate closest to the cells. In the second agreements that allow both to make business and to
case the temperature is calculated using the smallest improve as fast as possible their products.
specific internal resistance measured in all systems The early purchase contracts must include this
participating in the call for tenders. vision and in consequence must require qualification
The dust present on the array will be accounted certificates although the international norms are not yet
for in the calculation of rated power. approved.

The correction formulas to STC-C will be similar REFERENCES


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seller must compensate the loses installing free new
arrays which power output should be equal to the power AKNOWLEDGEMENTS
lost over the fixed 6% every three years.
This work has been supported by the European
CONCLUSION commission through the funding of project IDEOCONTE
This is a special moment for PVC technology, (ENKS-CT-2002-00617)
because many positive factors have joined to promote the This work is partially supported by Project
launching of industrial and commercial activity. Several NUMANCIA, funded by Comunidad Autonoma de Madrid.
companies are in the market and others have announced

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