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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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How many to power an Anandtech user's house?
By GoatMonkey on 5/14/2007 8:54:36 AM , Rating: 2
I'd like to know how many of these panels it would take to fully power an average Anandtech user's house. Considering that the site is populated by mostly computer geeks we tend to have more than average amounts of electronics and computer equipment.

It's probably safe to say that Anandtech users have more than 1 computer, or at least a computer and a game console. Currently most enthusiast computers use at least a 500W power supply. Then you have a display for each, big speakers for games, various peripherals (cameras, printers, routers, etc.). Of course, we have home theater systems, maybe an HDTV if were lucky.

Then of course, you have all of the standard stuff usually in a house like air conditioning, refrigerator, stove, etc.

My rough estimate says that if you keep all of these things running, you would need at minimum 50 of these panels, probably more than that actually.

With each of these panels being roughly 6' x 4', and getting 50 panels, would cover an area of 300' x 200'. That's pretty close to the dimensions of a football field.

Also, being computer geeks, many of us live in the city in apartments/condos, or in the nearby burbs. Those places are not going to have the space to fully run all your gear from these panels.

Yes, I realize that people don't really run all of their stuff at once, and that you don't necessarily need to power everything for this to be a benefit. I'm just saying, still not the most practical thing, but it's great that they're working on it.

By psychobriggsy on 5/14/2007 10:01:23 AM , Rating: 2
Err, 50 panels of 6'x4' is an area 300'x4', or 150'x8', or 75'x16', not 300'x200' :)

Even my small UK house could probably fit some 20 panels on its roof.

By GoatMonkey on 5/14/2007 10:32:10 AM , Rating: 2
doh! Yeah, I calculated wrong. But still that's pretty big.

By Ringold on 5/14/2007 5:59:04 PM , Rating: 2
Well, in theory, all of that really does run about all the time.

Many geeks apparently dont turn their computers off when they walk away even if they aren't running something like F@H -- which would mean nearly full-load non-stop if they did.

The AC is usually on all the time, though some people go to the trouble of programming their AC controller to allow it to get warmer (or stay colder) whilst most occupants are off to work, school, etc.

The refrigerator BETTER be on all the time, and it consumes a lot of energy. Hot water heater, much the same story.

Of course, there are a few things that consume monsterous amounts of energy, like drying clothes, that only occur while people are home.. but those things probably tend to be done closer to night after people come home, too.

I'm not disagreeing with anything really, though. Just saying, a homes consumption probably is relatively steady.

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