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Clean Power Cool Earth Solar reshaping solar energy

Published on September 13th, 2008 | by Tom Schueneman

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Cool Earth Solar: Solar Power from "Balloons"

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September 13th, 2008 by
 

This is a guest post by Tom Schueneman, publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com

Cool Earth Solar reshaping solar energy

Cool Earth Solar says it’s technology will “reshape solar energy” – literally.

One of the more thorny issues with any form renewable energy is collecting it. There is plenty of wind to meet our energy needs, the trick is “harvesting” it. The same goes of solar. As Cool Earth Solar’s CEO Rob Lamkin says, “If you’re going to replace hydrocarbons with solar, you’re going to need a lot of collecting surface.”

Cool Earth Solar, based in Livermore, California addresses the need for “a lot of collecting surface”, claiming the ability to cheaply harvest solar energy not in terms of kilowatts or megawatts, but gigawatts of power.

Focusing Sunlight

Instead of using flat collector panels or “boxes-with-lenses” requiring heavy, expensive materials to work, Cool Earth Solar uses what is essentially an eight-foot-tall balloon – called a concentrator – made of a thin plastic film similar to the kind of stuff used for potato chip bags and such. The concentrator has a transparent upper hemisphere and reflective lower hemisphere that, when inflated, forms a shape that naturally focuses sunlight on a photovoltaic cell held at the focal point.

The design is simple in its concept, requires no new technology, and produces 300 to 400 times the electricity that same cell could produce without the concentrator.

The concentrator’s light infrastructure and use of fewer expensive PV cells, along with its scalability, makes it already competitive with electricity generated from natural gas, as Lamkin said in the latest issue of Discover magazine: “…the bottom line is that today we can generate electricity as cheaply as, or more cheaply than, we do natural gas – and we expect to pass coal soon. “

Ruffians with BB guns

Some of the challenges Lamkin sees with the with the concentrator is the longevity of the thin film, estimating that it would need replacement every couple of years. But since a single unit only uses a few dollars worth of plastic, says Lamkin, “…it’s not something that is going to hurt us.”

Then there’s the problem of young ruffians with BB guns. But that sort of problem isn’t exclusive to this technology.

Solar Balloon Farm

Solar concentrators weigh about 20 pounds each when inflated and are supported by wire cable strung between wooden poles or lightweight aluminum towers. Each unit is capable of generating up to 1 kilowatt of electricity and withstanding 125 mile-per-hour winds.

Cool Earth Solar is currently working on a quarter-million-watt demonstration plant in Livermore as well as a utility scale 1.5-million watt plant in Tracy, California.

Within a year’s time, Lamkin hopes to start building standardized 10 to 30 megawatt plants. A 30 megawatt plant will require 30,000 balloons. If things go as planned, Lamkin hopes Cool Earth will add hundreds of megawatts of generating capacity every year, selling the power directly to utility companies.

Photo credit: CoolEarthSolar.com

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About the Author

is an online publisher, editor, and freelance writer. He is the founder of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the History Blog Project, as well as publisher and site director for the HippieMagazine.com. Tom also contributes to numerous environmental blogs, including TriplePundit, Ecopolitology, Sustainablog, and Planetsave.   Tom's work has led him to Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada, the South Pacific, and across the United States. His home base is San Francisco, California.



  • Pingback: Cool Earth Solar Set to Open Prototype Plant and Change the Shape of Solar Power

  • Yogesh

    We are thinking about a big project based on your idea in India. How do we contact you guys as you haven’t been replying to the mails.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      We are simply a cleantech news site. We don’t make this.

  • http://yahoo.com arya

    i feel your idea is brilliant as we do need climate change and this can also save environment and money so is a multipurpose technique.

  • http://yahoo.com arya

    i feel your idea is brilliant as we do need climate change and this can also save environment and money so is a multipurpose technique.

  • Richard S

    Would not the “cooling” water give a secondary power generation or at least usable hot water which you dont get from purely PV systems?

    From acorns…

  • Richard S

    Would not the “cooling” water give a secondary power generation or at least usable hot water which you dont get from purely PV systems?

    From acorns…

  • Dr.M.G.Venugopalan

    It is wonderful idea.I wish you are able to supply small ‘home kits’ which can be fitted on top of individual houses and generate 5to 10 KW of power required for daily domestic consumption. Can’t it be linked to storage batteries so that power generated during day time can be stored in the storage battery and used at night. What would be the cost of typical domestic kit fabricated by you ? I am prepared to join your experiment in a tropical country like INDIA and furnish the results of its viability.

  • http://www.totalsolarenergy.co.uk/solar-power-homes.html Total Solar Energy

    never heard of this before. i live in hackney and i’m sure kids round here would have a go at shooting them down

  • http://www.totalsolarenergy.co.uk/solar-power-homes.html Total Solar Energy

    never heard of this before. i live in hackney and i’m sure kids round here would have a go at shooting them down

  • Pingback: Cool Earth Solar Constructing First Solar “Balloon” Prototype Plant : CleanTechnica

  • Pingback: Cool Earth Solar Constructing First Solar “Balloon” Prototype Plant : CleanTechnica

  • harold

    very clever idea. I do worry about the wind distorting the shape of the lens but that’s prob’ly nitpicking (the lens isn’t very good anyway, it’s the AREA and ECONOMY that counts). The infrastructure seems no more complicated than standard PV arrays (and probably cheaper), with the great advantage of using fewer PV cells, by a factor of a few hundred. Cooling adds to the cost, but that should be easily recovered in the increased efficiency (not to mention the fact that plumbing is a pretty well understood technology).

  • harold

    very clever idea. I do worry about the wind distorting the shape of the lens but that’s prob’ly nitpicking (the lens isn’t very good anyway, it’s the AREA and ECONOMY that counts). The infrastructure seems no more complicated than standard PV arrays (and probably cheaper), with the great advantage of using fewer PV cells, by a factor of a few hundred. Cooling adds to the cost, but that should be easily recovered in the increased efficiency (not to mention the fact that plumbing is a pretty well understood technology).

  • http://url.ie/h1b?299045018 web

    A very interesting idea. One day will the sky be clouded with balloons, blocking out the sun. Oh, the irony.

  • http://url.ie/h1b?299045018 web

    A very interesting idea. One day will the sky be clouded with balloons, blocking out the sun. Oh, the irony.

  • http://www.coolearthsolar.com Tony Chen

    Let me first acknowledge Scott_T for his careful reading and follow up. His comment alludes to the truth that start-up companies, no matter how bright with potential, must execute according to plan in order to realize success.

    Since the early interview with Cool Earth Solar founder, Dr. Eric Cummings, the company has incorporated, raised funds, filled out its team with top engineers, filed patents, and begun the hard work of transforming ideas and engineering designs into “steel in the ground”. Last winter, Cool Earth Solar installed a 30 kW first generation prototype in the field. The data gathered has led to marked improvements in the design, strength, and efficiency of the system. This learning has shaped the improved designs of the pilot power plant (250 kW) which is the current focus of the company.

    While its too early declare either success or failure (especially if you define success as supplanting carbon emitting fossil fuels with renewable solar on a massive scale), Cool Earth Solar has been building, testing, and building again.

  • http://www.coolearthsolar.com Tony Chen

    Let me first acknowledge Scott_T for his careful reading and follow up. His comment alludes to the truth that start-up companies, no matter how bright with potential, must execute according to plan in order to realize success.

    Since the early interview with Cool Earth Solar founder, Dr. Eric Cummings, the company has incorporated, raised funds, filled out its team with top engineers, filed patents, and begun the hard work of transforming ideas and engineering designs into “steel in the ground”. Last winter, Cool Earth Solar installed a 30 kW first generation prototype in the field. The data gathered has led to marked improvements in the design, strength, and efficiency of the system. This learning has shaped the improved designs of the pilot power plant (250 kW) which is the current focus of the company.

    While its too early declare either success or failure (especially if you define success as supplanting carbon emitting fossil fuels with renewable solar on a massive scale), Cool Earth Solar has been building, testing, and building again.

  • http://resueht.blogspot.com Steve

    While I’m all for concentrating photovoltaics (CPVs), we need better cooling technologies. Thats going to get hot. Maybe not as much as this one

    http://www.physorg.com/news130086323.html

    but I’m sure it would be enough to cause some higher electrical resistance, lowering efficiency.

    I could be completely wrong though.

  • http://resueht.blogspot.com Steve

    While I’m all for concentrating photovoltaics (CPVs), we need better cooling technologies. Thats going to get hot. Maybe not as much as this one

    http://www.physorg.com/news130086323.html

    but I’m sure it would be enough to cause some higher electrical resistance, lowering efficiency.

    I could be completely wrong though.

  • Mr. Sinister

    What’s that I smell? Oh yes, bulls**t.

  • Mr. Sinister

    What’s that I smell? Oh yes, bulls**t.

  • Highgamma

    Won’t it reflect both heat and light and melt everything (including the chip)?

  • Highgamma

    Won’t it reflect both heat and light and melt everything (including the chip)?

  • Scott_T

    This sounded familiar, so a little googling: http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0221-coolearth.html

    That was February of 2007 and apparently they still havent made anything.

    “Cummings says that CoolEarth plans to have pilot installations by the fourth quarter of 2007″

  • Scott_T

    This sounded familiar, so a little googling: http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0221-coolearth.html

    That was February of 2007 and apparently they still havent made anything.

    “Cummings says that CoolEarth plans to have pilot installations by the fourth quarter of 2007″

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