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Heliotube concentrators have integrated tracking built into the panel, allowing more sunlight to reach a smaller photovoltaic surface area through the day.
The same size as conventional panels, it doubles efficiency by tracking the sun.

A Pasadena, Calif., company has applied to patent a new solar panel that can produce electricity at half the cost of conventional rooftop panels.

According to the MIT Technology Review, Soliant Energy's new Heliotube panel produces the same amount of energy as traditional solar arrays used in residential electrical systems, however a unique design reduces the amount of expensive photovoltaic material by almost 90 percent. Semiconductor-based photovoltaic (PV) material is needed to perform the actual conversion of solar energy to electricity inside a solar array, but the material is costly to produce.

Commercial solar energy production systems typically use mirrors and lenses to focus sunlight on the PV surfaces, making for more efficient energy production with a smaller PV surface area. In addition, panels are often mounted on posts that can pivot to follow the movements of the sun throughout the day, further concentrating the amount of sunlight reaching the PV material. However, these more efficient designs with moving mechanisms are impractical for smaller residential systems, which usually rely on a limited number of stationary, roof-mounted panels.

The Heliotube design incorporates lenses, mirrors and movable panels that track the sun. However, all of these components are encased in a rectangular acrylic case that is the same size as a conventional rooftop panel. The 50-pound panels are equipped with trough-shaped concentrators that move throughout the day. Aided by inexpensive optics, the mirrored troughs intensify the amount of sunlight reaching smaller PV strips located at the bottom of each trough.

The first-generation Heliotube panels, due to start shipping later this year, pivot only on one axis, limiting their ability to track the sun's movement. The company is designing a new version which will divide the troughs into shorter sections that can move independently to track the sun from side to side and from top to bottom, increasing the efficiency. The panels are self-powered and do not require alignment, according to the company.

Soliant's founder and CTO, Brad Hines, who formerly worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the company's goal is to offer consumers a "grid equivalent" cost of $0.06 per kilowatt hour in three years, not including tax incentives. "In industry terms, this means well under $1.50 per watt,” Hines said.

Soliant's technology partners include Boeing Spectrolab, MIT, Sandia National Labs, and SunEdison.



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RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By rtrski on 5/14/2007 8:44:21 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I've read (no attribution - sorry, but seems to make 'intuitive' sense) that with increased CO2 the oceans are getting a bit more acidic, with consequences to coral and other sea life. Wonder if somehow any deep injected CO2 might not percolate back up into and affect the water table the same way.


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By therealnickdanger on 5/14/2007 9:52:25 AM , Rating: 2
Aren't there already MASSIVE volcanic fissures on the ocean floors releasing all manner of toxic gases into the water? I'd suspect (no attribution here either) that we could not possibly beat out nature itself when it comes to pollution...


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By Chernobyl68 on 5/14/2007 11:53:55 AM , Rating: 2
yep. and the sea life at those depths has adapted to the environment at those depths over the millinea. but the dying coral reefs are a real concern.


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By therealnickdanger on 5/14/2007 12:17:52 PM , Rating: 2
They adapted to it, eh? What exactly did these magical sea creatures do in the time between suffocating on the gases and not suffocating on the gases? These molten eruptions have been ongoing forever, they didn't wait for these little guys to evolve before getting more intense or something. My point being: reefs will adapt to, right? :P


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By Whedonic on 5/14/2007 1:40:08 PM , Rating: 2
Evolution takes a long, long time in most cases. So even if coral and others eventually manage to adapt, there could still be massive damage to sea life and the related economies in our lifetime. What good does it do us to say "yeah, they'll eventually adapt in a few millenia" if we're stuck with the problems now?


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By thatguy39 on 5/14/2007 4:46:12 PM , Rating: 2
To compare the CO2 & other poisonous gases released by volcanoes to spent nuclear fuel is ridiculous! Creatures actually live by those volcanic vents... Ive never seen anything living with radiation poisoning. period.


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By Ringold on 5/14/2007 5:35:50 PM , Rating: 2
There's bacteria that has been found inside nuclear reactors, and lots of tech sites occasionally mention it just as a weird fact on a slow news day.


RE: the rubbiatron, anyone
By FITCamaro on 5/15/2007 6:51:33 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah and we're not dumping our spent nuclear fuel into the ocean either buddy. It's going into sealed containers and buried in a mountain.


"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997











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