Solar Panel System Will Harvest The Power Of 2,000 Suns

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

Earth Day, for all of its admirable qualities, is still seen by too many people as just a tree-hugger holiday, or as an excuse to feel good about themselves for buying new light bulbs and water filters. Considering its relative closeness to the Product-of-the-Earth-Day, 4/20, some people might just be waking up, wondering what the hell happened.

Well, let’s all sit back and hope for for the success of the recently announced solar energy project from partners IBM, Airlight Energy, ETH Zurich, and Interstate University of Applied Sciences Buchs NTB. They are planning on building and further developing the technology used in their High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) energy system, one of which already exists at the IBM Research lab in Zurich.

Solar power

So, what is it? It’s a bunch of mirrors set into a large parabolic dish, reflecting solar rays onto receivers covered in tiny PV chips, which generate 25 kilowatts of power. Each of these triple-junction photovoltaic cells can net around 200-250 watts during an eight-hour day, given a strong presence from the sun. There are hundreds of these chips on there, so you can guess how powerful a device this could be. They use “the power of 2,000 suns” in their article, so that’s what made the headline. It’s got a certain ring to it.

The team has been awarded a three-year, $2.4 million grant. Here’s hoping they can build a bunch of these things, as the scientists estimate the system will cost less than $250 per square meter, which is a third less than everything else out there. Except, of course, for the power of imagination.

“We replace expensive steel and glass with low-cost concrete and simple pressurized metalized foils,” said Andrea Pedretti, CTO of Airlight Energy. “The small high-tech components, in particular the microchannel coolers and the molds, can be manufactured in Switzerland, with the remaining construction and assembly done in the region of the installation. This leads to a win-win situation where the system is cost competitive and jobs are created in both regions.”

It isn’t just about the electrical power, either. Those microchannel coolers he’s talking about run behind the receivers, forming a system not unlike our own blood vessels. Water is pumped through them, and an energy-efficient form of cooling occurs, which is similar to how IBM keeps their supercomputers from overheating. The water then goes into a distillation system where it is vaporized and desalinated, and it could then provide drinking water for a small population. The heat from the processor chips is absorbed by the water, which uses the power in heating or cooling the facilities, via an air conditioner. This should be patented as a treehouse.

Maybe this’ll help those asteroid-killing lasers get built quicker. From hydrogen leaves to fusion-driven space travel, it seems like the future is going to be great. But it’ll probably be for the younger generation, which is just going to ruin it anyway.

Below is a video for the first prototype IBM was a part of. I want to go to a carnival funhouse with those kinds of mirrors in them.