Solar Power at Half the Cost

Written by on June 1, 2007

Silicon is pretty expensive these days, and traditional solar panels need a lot of it to convert light to energy. But two of the great opportunities for expansion in solar is using less silicon, by concentrating light on smaller panels, and increasing efficiency by tilting panels to follow the sun. These roof-mounted units created by Soliant Energy (Soliant Green Energy?) do both of those things, with no external power equipment necessary.

The innovation here is called the ‘heliotube.’ It’s a tube of glass that concentrates the sun’s rays onto a very thin strip of silicon solar panels at the base of the tube. The tube is then connected to a frame in blocks, and the frame uses the power coming off the panel to tilt the tubes to track the sun. These panels use 88% less photovoltaic material, but are almost as efficient per square foot as traditional solar panels.

While it would be more efficient if the panels could tile vertically as well as horizontally (and thus track the exact path of the sun) the simple design and ease of installation will bring the intial costs of these panels way down. Right now, this initial cost is basically the barrier that keeps solar power from juicing high-sunlight areas of the world.

Unfortunately this design has a few flaws. Currently, the troughs placement causes them to occasionally shade each other, preventing them from capturing the maximum amount of sunlight. However, the next revision hopes to correct the former problem by breaking up the rows into sections so that they can follow the sun in every direction.

They estimate an eventual improvement of energy production by 300% from their current design. The panels are scheduled to ship this year, with the new model having an estimated 2010 completion date.

Via TechnologyReview


29 Responses to “Solar Power at Half the Cost”

  1. solar cells
    Modern day energy systems rely on explosion rather than implosion, and this generates heat. This includes electricity harnessed from solar power. Energy systems need to be more efficient and work on implosion, so they stay cool. The non-profit energy research organization at [url]http://www.universalsymbiosis.org[/url] (also [url]http://www.genuinewinner.com[/url] ) is active in these areas which will help reverse effects of global warming. They develop more efficient solar cells too. I suggest everyone also read “Living Energies” by Callum Coats which explains the work of Victor Schauberger and the importance of trees to our planet. They also cover efficiency of implosion vs explosion energy systems. Don’t rely on information from the authorities as their advisors don’t fully understand the life cycles of the planet. We need to push the authorities to develop forest management and sustainability plans, and this will solve at least part of the problem. But as for solar power, this is partly a solution immediately available to us if we only push the governments to act more on it.

  2. Mirco says:

    One major factor in the scarcity of PV materials is that Plasma tvs use a ridiculous amount of those similar materials. Personally, I believe the use of solar and wind power to be practical only on the small scale, personal level for those in very remote areas. To supply the needs of millions, it would be far easier to implement the use of algae-derived biofuel. It is a concentrated, portable liquid, that can be refined, distributed, and consumed using existing infrastructure with minimal modification, and has the advantage of not being ephemeral, periodic, or unpredictable, like wind or solar are in many cases. Certainly, there is the possibilty of a global distribution net utilizing solar energy in very reliably sunny areas, but to do so would incurr huge transportation loss, and phenomenal infrastructure. The same thing goes for wind. Algae can be grown very efficiently, quickly, produce very little waste, which can also be utilized, and storage is a non-issue, you don’t need batteries or other complex, lossy systems to guarantee a steady, flexible to demand supply. All you need is a large enough container, which we have an abundance of, from the smallest jerry can to the largest tankers.

  3. najmudeen says:

    Site is excellent source of information – comments are too informative to delve in deeply.

  4. Levi says:

    Pure Energy Solar
    i just found out about Pure Energy Solar. these guys do really great work installing home solar energy systems. they are super cool guys and have a lot of great information on their website, pureenergysolar.net. if you are looking for someone to put together a solar electric system for you, or just need them to answer your questions, give them a call at 1-352-377-6527.

  5. Candace says:

    Why isn’t Citizenre doing more advertising? It’s set to launch in the middle of ’08 and barely anyone knows about it.

  6. Dave says:

    Good idea
    I think it is a good idea, but I would worry about hail damage.

  7. lanyok says:

    i dont think this is effective …

  8. Matt Rochlin says:

    Is it really more efficient?
    Soliant & Heliotubes have been all over the blogs, so they have great publicity people.
    But they give no hard numbers on costs or measures of efficiency that can be used for real comparisons versus existing systems.
    For a product that supposedly is going to ship to installers in a couple months, that’s pretty weak.

    In terms of $, the solar business is entirely driven by Federal and state subsidies and credits. (Which is why the commercial SPAM posting by Ecopreneur to rent you solar equipment for which they keep the subsidies is a total rip off).

  9. Tireless2 says:

    How about CitizenRe Corporation, manufacturing it’s own custom design/build Solar Syatems for homeowners that require [b]NO INVESTMENT[/b] “Direct TV Dish” is supplied at no cost. [i]WHY NOT A SOLAR SYSTEM[/i] [b]IT IS BEING DONE[/b] Click on the “play” button and then all the others to see if it is available in your area, AND to learn about SAVING and EARNING big BUCK$: [url]http://www.jointhesolution.com/ltsfl[/url] [b]There is nothing to buy[/b]so keep your card in your wallet.
    A sign up gets you an OPTION and NO OBLIGATION. You will see more about it at:[url]http://www.powur.com/ltsfl[/url] Where you can also become an
    [b]Ecopreneur[/b] ;D

  10. cool article, thanks

  11. What’s DCSTME?
    Google came up blank when I asked, what does DCSTME stand for?

  12. EFTE
    There’s a type of transparent teflon called Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene which would make a better transparent protective barrier / enclosure than glass or any of the plexiglass products I know of (most yellow or tint with age).

    You can read a lot about it at Businessweek

    FTA: “it?s 1% the weight, transmits more light, is a better insulator, and costs 24% to 70% less to install. It?s also resilient (able to bear 400 times its own weight, with an estimated 50-year life-span), self-cleaning (dirt slides off its nonstick surface), and recyclable.”

  13. ctyankee says:

    and you think silicon is expensive…
    Sheesh… anonymous troll is correct higher temp = lower efficiency almost 8% according to their brochure. But even more to the point… the cost of these monstrosities will dwarf the cost of a plain-ol panel in $/W.

    We all *know* that the PV companies are conspiring to drive up the cost of panels in an already over priced market… so *obviously* these guys are in on the conspiracy to drive up the cost of Fresnel lenses and fabricated aluminum too…

    And I can’t wait to reach into those frames to extract bits of leaves, twigs, bugs, webs, cocoons, birdshit, sand, mold, and every other yummy-goodness under the sun, from crevices that are intended to operate grime & debris free.

    DCSTME* is in out future, keep an open mind before you waste any $$$ on non-starters like this. DCSTME provides high efficiency, high reliability, high quality, low cost, energy. Using readily available materials processed using conventional techniques by American workers.

    In 5 years our systems will be producing energy equivalent to 1/2 million barrels of oil per day at an estimated cost of [b]

  14. David says:

    Solar is here to stay fora while. We have reached that threshold of performance, so the future does look bright.

  15. anonymoustroll says:

    hate to burst your bubble…
    photovoltaic *are* temperature sensitive with regard to efficiency. Remind me again how to set ants on fire… oh, that’s right with a concentrating lenz. So, while you may end up using 88% less silicon, efficiency is going to drop, possibly as much as 60% and failure rates will also go up… this sounds like a big step forward, NOT!

  16. David says:

    Insulate the case walls and install an inclined clear glass top ( say 30 to 45 degrees angle ) and have a high reflective base to help reflect light back onto the glass, to help melt any ice that may form, just enough to a point where it overcomes friction and simply slides of the top.

    Great Lotto Syndicate Software

  17. Old Tom's RN says:

    My apologies
    I forgot to give Old Tom his meds this morning and he got all cranky over the internet. His mind wanders in his old age and thinks that everyone should know the exact same thing he knows.

    His apologizes for being a douche bag and is happy that more people are learning about something he thinks is a good idea.

  18. Used Car Guy says:

    When will AMD build it?

  19. Old Tom says:

    How in the world did this get digged?
    Look. It’s an advert for something that’s been done over and over. Search Amazon for an old book called “A golden thread”. Buy it. Be astonished at our reinvention of the wheel.

    Old Tom

  20. Bob Wallace says:

    Getting powered up in the mountains…
    Get on line to Backwoods Solar. Good folks with an informative catalog.

    Also see if you can get your hands on the Real Goods Solar Living Source Book. Lots of good info there.

    And determine the actual power you need. If you aren’t sure what your TV, etc. pull then get a Kill-A-Watt meter. For a few bucks you can have some real numbers with which to start.

    (This post brought to you via solar power. Off the grid since 1989.)

  21. Nick says:

    glass generally isn’t transparent to UV.

  22. cointelpro says:

    It is a good idea, I think they will enclose this panel under sometype of glass like solar panels.

  23. west says:

    hello guys,
    good morning.
    i am looking for a solar panel kit for my home in the mountains. electricity has not yet reached it yet.
    can you email me site where i can order such kit. based on your experiences what is the average cost for such setup?
    i need to run a desktop, tv, microwave and light.


  24. Jenny says:

    Solar energy is environment friendly and it helps us to eradicate pollution. But the technology needs some more development.


  25. Rob Suto says:

    Would it be possible to just enclose the system into a clear case? If given enough room to allow for tracking, the cover could protect the tracking system from ice. Snow could then be easily removed without the danger of harming the tubes themselves. Then, if the cover gets scratched up, one could just replace the cover.

  26. mAineAc says:

    cover with glass
    This could be fixed by putting this in a box with a glass cover. Nothing says this has to be completely open to the weather. As a matter of fact I can see this being built into the roof with glass even with the shingles or a couple of inches above with the glass enveloping it.

  27. Clay Smith says:

    Let’s cover the hot spots first
    Snow and ice could definitely be a problem for y’all, but some of us live in areas where there is no snow or ice?ever. If this cheaper, more efficient solar panel could be used in my part of the world (SoCal), might’nt it give solar power the residential boost it needs? It’s an elementary suggestion, I know, but every little bit counts.

  28. Hank says:

    Excellent point
    I’m not sure how the tracking system works, but it does seem that ice might be a problem. Snow, however,is a problem with all solar panels, for obvious reasons.

  29. Lenny says:

    my it’s cold here
    It looks like the tracking mechanism would get stuck easy from snow or ice so these would only be useful in regions where winters are very mild.
    Other than that this seems a viable product.