High-efficiency solar power that floats in water

Apr 25, 2011 By Jim Motavalli

Sometimes you encounter an idea so seemingly brilliant you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself. OK, here goes: Utility-grade "concentrating" solar power ... in water. You're not applauding - what's going on?

I know it doesn't sound all that incredible at first, but think about it. Solar is only important if it gets big. Right now, it's still a pitiful percentage of the energy mix. If we're ever going to be able to comfortably answer the questions about charging up from a dirty grid, we have to start injecting more renewable energy into the mix, and that's what's so great about concentrating solar, which through the use of focusing mirrors and other tech substantially increases the electron yield of a photovoltaic array.

Most concentrating also swivel to track the sun during the day, which is far more effective than a fixed array. In Pyron Solar's small 20-kilowatt test installation in San Diego, the sit in what looks like a big above-ground swimming pool, and because they're floating, the water acts as a bearing and they can be moved very easily on a ring - with a tiny 12-volt electric motor of less than one horsepower.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Installations like this aren't intended for the , of course, as Pyron President Stephanie Rosenthal explained to me, but for placid rivers, ponds and man-made pools. There's no reason systems like this can't be installed in wastewater, or in reservoirs or even in the water hazards on golf courses. The water host also means they can be mounted low to the ground, kept cool on hot days and easily withstand weather events that could topple a tall solar tower. The system avoids the problem of panels shading each other, and it also has a very small "footprint" - with three acres, you can install a megawatt of solar.

Pyron's Joe Bentley, the chief technology officer, pushed down on one of the connected panels with his finger, and it gave way but didn't lose its relationship with the sun. As he did that, I could see, down in the pool, the mosquito-eating fish that Pyron had installed to help keep the water clean. (There were supposed to be tiny sharks, too, but I didn't see them.)

Pyron uses an acrylic concentrating lens, which focuses the equivalent of the light from 6,500 suns on a small optical device, which then spreads it across the surface of the solar cell. The system was originally developed by a German scientist in 1986, and Pyron's test version represents something of a dream fulfilled. It's installed at San Diego Gas & Electric's Mission Controls/Skills Training Center (formidable security!), which is an indication of the utility's interest in the technology. (SDG&E is a major investor in concentrating solar.)

The installation I saw was test-sized - 50 of them would equal a . Electricity from Pyron Solar's arrays "should be below 10 cents per kilowatt-hour," Rosenthal told me. "That's a very attractive proposition." Pyron isn't quite ready for commercialization, but the team is working on its third-generation technology, which is the version that will go on sale.

Explore further: Engineering new vehicle powertrains

More information: India signs on to floating solar energy power plant (w/ video): www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-i… rgy-power-video.html

4 /5 (6 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Californians bask in solar energy

Jan 04, 2007

Soaring energy costs, environmental consciousness and financial incentives have combined to make solar panels part of the California housing landscape.

Parking lots could become 'solar groves' (w/ Video)

Jul 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Architect Robert Noble, who specializes in sustainable design has come up with the idea of turning parking lots into "solar groves" that shade the vehicles, generate electricity, and serve ...

UQ solar array reaches milestone

Apr 07, 2011

The University of Queensland's $7.75 million solar power system at St Lucia in Brisbane has reached a milestone, with installation completed on one of the project's most visible components.

Willis Tower goes solar

Mar 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Do you know the Sears Tower? No, no you don't because for some time now it has been going by the much less famous name of the Willis Tower. While that bit of information may not be news to ...

High-energy project in high desert

May 25, 2010

The sprawling solar installations gobbling up California's deserts have a new competitor, one that claims to generate more energy at lower costs while using less open space. Known as concentrator photovoltaics, or CPV, the ...

Engineers give solar power a boost

Jan 11, 2011

The growing popularity of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems across the United States has made it more important to maximize their power input. That's why UC San Diego environmental engineering professor Jan Kleissl is working ...

Recommended for you

Engineering new vehicle powertrains

13 hours ago

Car engines – whether driven by gasoline, diesel, or electricity – waste an abundance of energy. Researchers are working on ways to stem this wastefulness. Ultramodern test facilities are helping them ...

First self-contained step dimming LED tube

Sep 30, 2014

Samsung Electronics today introduced the industry's first AC Direct step-dimming LED linear replacement for T8 and T12 fluorescent tubes at the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Convention ...

Battery system will be able to light 2,500 homes

Sep 30, 2014

One of the largest, most environmentally-friendly, battery-based energy storage systems in the nation will be installed at the University of California, San Diego the campus announced today (Sept. 29).

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gunslingor1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 25, 2011
"Installations like this aren't intended for the open ocean, of course, as Pyron President Stephanie Rosenthal explained to me"
-THANK GOOD, you scared me for a minute. I'm all for solar, but not for stealing all the light energy that the planet needs to servive. This would've created massive dead spots.
-Anyway, great work, now just start producing them and laying them out!!! Of course, this won't happen... just like high capacity batteries, the patents will be bought and supressed if viable.
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (5) Apr 25, 2011
"thank GOOD"? Who is "GOOD"?
tk1
not rated yet Apr 25, 2011
"Dude, Where's my swimming pool!"

Sorry, couldn't help myself.

I do wonder how deep the water has to be to float the array?
Mahal_Kita
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
.. you scared me for a minute. I'm all for solar, but not for stealing all the light energy that the planet needs to servive. This would've created massive dead spots.


Kewl.. Every piece of 'shade' produces a dead spot. Like blow up those mountains, dude. ROTFL..
rgwalther
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
What the fuck is a 'famalegoods.com'? These scumbags are deliberately targeting this site
Mahal_Kita
not rated yet Apr 26, 2011
What the fuck is a 'famalegoods.com'? These scumbags are deliberately targeting this site


Just ignore spam. Moderators are doing a good job. Slow.. But a good job.
6_6
1 / 5 (1) Apr 29, 2011
was given a fresnel lens as a kid to play with, thought of something similar, hear they use a stretched lens array on satellites.