San Diego Gas & Electric has embarked on a demonstration project to test the commercial viability of a new concentrated solar power system that uses shallow pools of water as a passive cooling system for high-efficiency solar cells. The unique proprietary technology was developed by Pyron Solar of Sorrento Valley, California.
The new technology could be attractive in land-rich areas, and it may also have some application for introducing sustainable energy to more densely developed areas, since its use of high efficiency solar cells enables it to pack more generating capacity into less space. It also may prompt some new exploration of the opportunity to double up solar energy generation with other operations, such as fish farming.
The San Diego Gas & Electricity Floating Solar Power Project
San Diego Union-Tribune writer Onell Soto reports that Pyron Solar’s demonstration project will consist of a 45-foot wide pool of water, which will house floating solar panels capable of generating about 20 kilowatts. The arrangement has several key advantages. It enables more panels to squeeze into a smaller area since they don’t cast shade on each other, it enables the panels to track the sun more effectively, it keeps the high-efficiency solar cells cool enough to operate at their peak capability, and it keeps the solar cells out of the wind, reducing the need to close up the system during extreme wind conditions, including hail or sand storms. With an extremely low center of gravity compared to other solar power systems, Pyron’s system could also provide earthquake prone areas with a solar option that they might not otherwise have. The system’s low profile – it sits only 16″ off the ground – also lends it to use in tourist areas or other places where the aesthetics of conventional solar arrays are intrusive.
Floating Solar Panels and Fish
Pyron will stock the pool with fish in order to keep mosquitoes at bay, which creates some interesting possibilities for getting an operational twofer out of the system. If the solar technology proves commercially successful, perhaps the fish farms of the future will double as solar energy collectors. The arrangement may also provide small or large farms (the system is highly scalable) with a way to generate electricity from open ponds and reservoirs that are also used for irrigation or watering stock.
High-Efficiency Solar Cells
Pyron’s demonstration project is being installed at San Diego Gas & Electric’s Mission Valley training center. It uses acrylic lenses and a tracking system to keep the sun’s rays focused on a proprietary glass optic, which in turn transfers the light to high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. The cells are similar to those used in space (presumably they are compound solar cells, not conventional silicon cells). Pyron hopes that the system’s relatively low installation and maintenance costs, combined with its high efficiency, will make it attractive to large scale users including utilities and military bases.
Pyron is among a number of companies betting on the lower cost and higher efficiency of concentrated solar as the shortest route to the mass market. Morgan Solar of Toronto has developed a concentrated solar technology based on thin sheets of acrylic, and SolFocus and Suncatcher both use mirror-based concentrating technology to generate more energy while using less expensive materials.
Image: Richard0 on flickr.com.
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