Solar power is going through a major transition now due to much lower costs. Because attention has been focused on the greater affordability, perhaps there has been less emphasis on the fact that solar technology continues to advance.
IBM and Airlight Energy have partnered to create a solar sunflower for sale in 2017. It can generate 12 kilowatts of electricity and 20 kilowatts of heat daily when there is steady sunshine. If the average home rooftop solar system is about 5 kilowatts, the sunflower solar system could generate enough electricity for about 2.5 homes or a little more depending on consumption rates.
The sunflower is a ten-meter high parabolic dish containing 36 mirrors, and within each mirror there are photovoltaic chips that generate electricity. Each chip is one square centimeter. They are similar to ones used on satellites for generating power.
A water cooling system is used to cool the chips and maintain a temperature of about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Without the water cooling system, chip temperatures could well exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
While such a unique design and complex technology sounds expensive, it has been estimated that with high volume production, that the total cost of a solar sunflower could be two or three times less than current options available. Another potential advantage is that the basic structure for the sunflower would be made of concrete so it could last for sixty years. The plastic mirrors will last about 10-15 years and would need to be replaced after that. The photovoltaic chips are expected to last 25 years which is in the about the same range of durability for typical solar panels.
“With the HCPVT we are ushering in a new generation of solar energy technology. Not only is the system affordable, but it will create jobs where it is installed because many of the materials will be sourced locally. We expect to partner with firms around the world to bring a commercial version to market by 2017,” explained Dr. Gianluca Ambrosetti, Head of Research at Airlight Energy.
The solar sunflower can also be customized for environments near sea water to convert salt water to fresh water, to the tune of hundreds of liters per day. Using a multi-dish sunflower array, water for a whole town could be desalinated. Less electricity is produced by a sunflower system that is also a mini-desalinization plant.
As we see with this solar sunflower system idea and design, solar power is not just rooftop solar and it isn’t limited to only producing electricity. With further research and development it might take a number of creative and more potent forms. One of the great things about this concept is that it could more affordable than current systems.
With improving solar power storage systems, we might see something of an energy revolution coming somewhat soon.