CPV stands for concentrator photovoltaics. A concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) system converts light energy into electrical energy in the same way that conventional photovoltaic technology does. The difference in the technologies lies in the addition of an optical system that focuses sunlight collected on a large area onto a small sized solar cell. Different CPV system designs exist, sometimes differentiated by the concentration factor, i.e: low-concentration (LCPV) and high-concentration (HCPV).
The other primary difference is in the cells. Traditional PV systems utilize large area silicon solar cells. In contrast, CPV systems utilize small sized high‐efficiency solar cell, thus consuming much less semiconductor material. Cells used in high concentration CPV systems are typically multijunction solar cells made out of compound III‐V semiconductor materials. Low concentration CPV systems typically use small sized high-efficiency Silicon solar cells. The CPV panels are mounted on a tracker which follows the sun. For high-concentration systems a two-axis tracking is mandatory, for low concentration systems sometimes one axis tracking is sufficient.
CPV is sometimes confused with CSP – Concentrating Solar Power. Whereas PV converts light energy directly to electricity, CSP systems utilize heat from the system to generate power in a traditional steam engine power plant environment.
CPV provides the lowest cost of solar energy in high solar regions of the world. The technology is in its early stage with significant headroom for future innovation, and it has the ability to ramp to gigawatts of production very rapidly. Many of the limitations for PV in the past are overcome by advances in CPV technology.