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Sunrgi's 'extreme' solar concentrators to match grid power

A start-up shows off a prototype of a solar concentrator that packs some serious heat--but that also boosts the efficiency of solar cells significantly.

Sunrgi is going to extremes to lower the cost of electricity from the sun.

The start-up on Tuesday came out of stealth and described its solar concentrator technology and business plans.

Sunrgi's 1-kilowatt array concentrates light 1,600 times to save money on solar cells. Sunrgi

It has built a prototype device that magnifies light 1,600 times onto expensive germanium solar cells. The company intends to produce the devices in 12 to 15 months, and says they will capable of generating electricity at 5 cents a kilowatt hour--competitive with coal-fired power plants.

By focusing light onto high-end cells, the device can convert 37 percent of sunlight to electricity--substantially higher than the 15 to 20 percent range for typical silicon solar panels. Concentration also allows manufacturers to use less material for cells, which is a large portion of a system's cost.

The company, founded by Silicon Valley veterans, plans to sell its systems to businesses and then utilities building solar power plants to meet peak power demands. The technology can be applied to residential homes as well.

By contrast, another concentrated PV start-up, SolFocus, magnifies light several hundred times, while Solaria only doubles or triples light concentration onto standard silicon cells.

One of the dangers of concentrating light is the heat that it generates, which will make solar cells less productive and, over time, damage them.

With Sunrgi's Xtreme Concentrated Photovoltaics system, the temperatures can go higher than 3,000 degrees. To address this, the company has developed a cooling mechanism to dissipate the heat and keep cells as cool as if there weren't lenses to magnify light.