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Chevron sets up test site for seven solar technologies

Project Brightfield will use 7,700 solar panels to evaluate various solar technologies, including panels that use thin-film and one that uses crystalline-silicon photovoltaic technology.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, said on Monday it has installed some 7,700 solar panels at a California site to test various technologies that help turn sunlight into electricity.

Project Brightfield, located in Bakersfield, Calif., will evaluate seven technologies: six panels that use thin-film, and one that uses crystalline-silicon photovoltaic technology, the company said.

The race is on in the solar industry to find the most efficient and lowest-cost way to harness the sun's energy.

Traditional silicon-based materials are the standard right now, though research firm iSuppli expects the market for thin-film solar panels to more than double by 2013.

Makers of thin-film, which boasts low costs, currently have some 20 percent of the market. Manufacturers of silicon-based panels claim to have higher efficiencies.

The Chevron project, which sits where a company refinery used to, is expected to generate roughly 740 kilowatts of electricity, which will feed the local utility grid as well as Chevron's oil operations at the Kern River Field.

California utilities are working to meet state mandates to derive 20 percent of their power from renewable resources by the end of this year.

The companies demonstrating thin-film technologies are Abound Solar, MiaSole, Schuco, Solar Frontier, Sharp, and Solibro, while Innovalight is providing the crystalline-silicon PV technology, Chevron said.

The company said it would use test results to help determine the uses of renewable power at its other facilities.