Published on September 30th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz45
Cool Earth Solar Constructing First Solar "Balloon" Prototype Plant
September 30th, 2008 by Ariel Schwartz
We’ve written about Livermore, CA-based startup Cool Earth Solar before. Now the company, which develops inflatable balloon-like solar concentrators, has announced that it is constructing a prototype plant in Livermore. Last week, I spoke to Cool Earth Solar CEO Rob Lamkin to get some more information on the upcoming project.
According to Lamkin, the prototype plant will be online in approximately two months. The company plans to test out different solar concentrator designs at the plant to prove out the technology. This winter, Cool Earth will launch its first commercial-grade power plant. The plant will be relatively small— only 1.4 MW— but Cool Earth plans on launching a full-size plant (10 to 30 MW) by next summer.
If the prototype plant is successful, Cool Earth wants to expand far beyond the Livermore area. “Initially, we’ll be be doing projects in California and the Southwest, but we do want to expand overseas,” Lamkin said. “To address the global energy problem, we’ve got to scale bigtime worldwide.”
Cool Earth Solar’s design is unique in the solar energy world. The company uses an inflatable plastic thin-film balloon (solar concentrator) that, upon inflation, focuses sunlight onto a photovoltaic cell held at its focal point. The design produces 400 times the electricity that a solar cell would create without the company’s concentrator.
Additionally, Cool Earth’s balloons are already price-competitive with natural gas-derived electricity. “Plastic thin film is abundant and cheap,” said Lamkin. “It only costs two dollars for the plastic material necessary for our solar concentrator.”