Inflatable photovoltaics

Posted by Laura Grant on February 24, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Cool Earth’s inflated solar collector

It may look like a giant kiddies balloon, but the object pictured above is in fact state-of-the-art concentrated solar photovoltaic technology for which Cool Earth Solar, a California-based company, has reportedly just received $21-million dollars in funding.

Concentrated solar systems use lenses or reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto solar cells, which reduces the amount of solar cell area needed to produce electricity. So the same amount of sunlight can be captured using significantly less of the photovoltaic material (eg, silicon), which is very expensive.

Cool Earth Solar uses metalised plastic films instead of rigid aluminium or glass to focus light and to maintain the mirror shape the plastic is inflated, says the Cool Earth website. In other words, the top of the plastic balloon-like concentrator is transparent and the back is a rounded mirror that focuses the sun on a small area of photovoltaic material.

Solar balloons mountedThe devices are very light so they can be mounted on wire structures. They are are suspended in series on support and control cables stretched between poles, the company says, which allows vast areas of land to be used to produce power, but the ground below can still be used for other purposes, like farming. Cool Earth says their inflated solar collectors can withstand 160kph winds.

The inflated concentrators were designed for utility-scale applications rather than individual installations and the company hopes to be able to produce power at roughly the cost of natural gas.
Pictures: Cool Earth Solar

Via:: EcoGeek and CNet News

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