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In tests starting last month, the world's largest generator of solar electric power produced twice the output of any previous photovoltaic concentrator unit. The Modular Solar Electric Power Generator began testing Nov. 19 in Pahrump, Nev., 60 miles west of Las Vegas, says Edward C. Schmidt, president of Alpha Solarco Inc. and Solectric Corporation of Cincinnati, the unit's builders.

The generator uses lenses to concentrate sunlight, increasing the light falling on the photovoltaic cells by a factor of 400. The company expects to boost the power output by 50 percent by switching to solar cells that achieve 20 percent efficiency, rather than the current 16 percent.

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Although sunlight is free, fuel costs don't worry utilities anyway because they pass their cost of fuel on to the consumers, Mr. Schmidt says. Rather, the utility looks at the construction cost, which is borne by the stockholders. Schmidt says that his companies' system, if ordered in quantity, could meet the industry's ceiling of $2 cost per watt of output, equivalent to building a coal-fired plant.

Utilities also look at operating costs. Twelve cents per kilowatt/hour is their target ceiling for peak electricity. Schmidt says his system can operate for 6/kwh.

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