New solar concentrator design (w/ Video)

Apr 22, 2010
A new solar concentrator design from an electrical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Diego could lead to solar concentrators that are less expensive and require fewer photovoltaic cells than existing solar concentrators. Image credit: UC San Diego / Jason Karp

A new solar concentrator design from an electrical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Diego could lead to solar concentrators that are less expensive and require fewer photovoltaic cells than existing solar concentrators. The graduate student, Jason Karp and his colleagues at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering presented the new solar concentrator in a paper in the January 2010 issue of the journal Optics Express.

On April 15, Karp and his solar concentrator won the 2010 Rudee Research Expo Outstanding Poster Award at the 29th Annual Research Expo at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

While engineers have already developed high-efficiency solar concentrators that incorporate optics to focus the sun hundreds of times and can deliver twice the power of rigid , the new design offers potential new benefits. Existing solar concentrator systems typically use arrays of individual lenses that focus directly onto independent which all need to be aligned and electrically connected. In contrast, the new solar concentrator collects sunlight with thousands of small lenses imprinted on a common sheet. All these lenses couple into a flat "waveguide" which funnels light to a single photovoltaic cell.

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A new solar concentrator design from an electrical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Diego could lead to solar concentrators that are less expensive and require fewer photovoltaic cells than existing solar concentrators. The graduate student, Jason Karp and his colleagues at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering presented the new solar concentrator in a paper in the January 2010 issue of the journal Optics Express. Credit: UC San Diego / Daniel Kane

Karp built a working prototype with just two primary optical components, thus reducing materials, alignment and assembly. This solar concentrator is compatible with high-volume, low-cost manufacturing.

"The real reason that we are trying to do this type of concentrator is certainly for cost," said Karp in an interview after winning best poster at Research Expo 2010 at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Karp explained that his design minimizes the cost for the optics associated with the entire system. One path to building optics very cheaply leads engineers to existing manufacturing techniques. The new solar concentrator is compatible with existing roll-to-roll processing techniques involved in fabricating large televisions.

Karp designed and built prototypes for the new solar concentrator in the Photonic Systems Integration Laboratory led by electrical engineering professor Joseph Ford from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

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More information: Optics Express paper at: psilab.ucsd.edu/publications.html

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labtvonline
5 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2010
This seems like a great, simple and practical invention. It's seems to be truly efficient as well, which is always a big plus in my book. Solar energy development needs to be focused on more and more in the future because it is the obvious winner in the renewable energy debate, at least for the next 10 billion years or so! I just recently saw a video in which military scientists have created a new type of solar cell using nanotechnology that is no only cheap and flexible but 10,000 times more efficient! I thought i was a similar amazing breakthrough. I'll post a link to the video if you would like to see more for yourself. Maybe these two technologies could be used together? I wonder...

http://www.ndep.u...ll-World
Simon_Dufour
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
Interesting idea. It could definitely keep the cost down. I wonder how much they could concentrate like that before throwing it to cells without damaging them. The sun is strong, really strong. Focusing this amount of energy would surely cause massive heat at some point.
Hunnter
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
@Simon_Dufour
This was what i worry about as well.
Too much heat will end up resulting in lost energy.
When you get to the point of having to liquid cool a solar cell, you know something isn't right.
But a little trial and error math should be enough to come up with the most efficient design before it would require a separate cell.

Of course it could be used to heat a house if it is high enough, with electrical backup if the sun isn't out in full.
antialias
5 / 5 (1) Apr 23, 2010
Most solar cells only work at certain frequencies - so the trick would be to concentrate only those frequencies and reflect the rest (especially infrared which could cause overheating and ultraviolet which causes most of the degradation). Whil ethis would throw away a part of the spectrum (and hence a part of the energy) it would allow for concentrator type solar cells (as described in the article with a very long lifespan.
Vlasev
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
@labtvonline
It sounds ridiculous. 10,000 times more efficient than what? If it's any existing solar cell these guys are breaking the 100% efficiency barrier "few" times.
Benbenben
not rated yet Apr 23, 2010
Vlasey...
'It sounds ridiculous. 10,000 times more efficient than what? If it's any existing solar cell these guys are breaking the 100% efficiency barrier "few" times.'
...along your same line of reasoning, whether or not the claim is ridiculous depends not only the parameters considered when calculating efficiency, but also which particular solar cells were compared....
I'm sure there are solar cells available to be compared with an efficiency of conversion of solar energy to electricity as low as 0.0001% (perhaps encased in lead?).
...or perhaps the efficiency measured something completely different, such as the efficiency (as measured in units of internet published characters per year per provisional patent application) at generating comments per invention...

Benbenben
winthrom
5 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2010
10000 times better than whatever Titanium Dioxide does as a solar cell otherwise. Please note that TiO2 is used as the white color in house paint because it is really cheap.

The article is stunning in a different manner: The common solar cell on a typical rooftop is efficient in the 8% to 15% range because it gets direct insolation 1:1 sun onto the cell. The concentrators change that ratio and use more expensive cell material to get up to 30% efficiency. The increase in efficiency is offset by the increase in price so no one uses it. This invention makes the efficiency rise at a lower cost.
antialias
not rated yet Apr 25, 2010
But that '30% efficiency' is bought at a larger area needed for the collector. The collector size for a given output does not shrink with concentrators (if anything it goes up). Only the cost goes down because the amount of solar cells needed is reduced (solar cells = expensive, concentrator material = cheap).

I think it depends on the application when and where this is useful.

On a rooftop where surface area is limited? Not so much.

For a power plant where there are no problems with adding 50% area (like in deserts) and where you want to replace the solar cells with the next generation every few years? There it makes sense.