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Published on May 3rd, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


Solarphasec — Solar Power Meets Art

May 3rd, 2012 by  


Here’s an interesting solar technology I recently ran across — Solarphasec’s 3D Spin Cell Generators (or, as I call them, solar cones). As you can see in the images and video above and the images below, this is a different look for solar.

However, beyond a pretty look, these solar cones are supposed to outperform conventional solar panels. The site states that they generate 40% more power throughout the course of the day and have 60% more gain during the course of the year. Return on investment (ROI) is projected to be quite a bit better according to the company’s calculations (note: costs of conventional panels have come down a bit since the numbers below were calculated, but not nearly enough to reach an ROI of 3.349 years):

The Solarphasec site discusses how this conic form improves the performance of these solar power systems:

“This technology introduces a conic form factor which allows for a larger photovoltaic surface area for a given footprint. This in turn leads to an exponential increase in active area as the Solarphasec system footprint increases. The conic form factor also essentially eliminates the concern of modules shadowing adjacent modules as is the case with ground mounted flat solar panel arrays. Additionally, the conic form factor significantly reduces wind load, allowing for large scale, high power commercial rooftop deployment.”

Other features of the solar cone also help:

The proprietary electromechanical function of the system increases the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells deployed in the system leading to significantly higher output power compared to an equivalent footprint of a standard solar panel.

The proprietary electromechanical function is designed to provide alternating current output for electrical distribution without the need for inverter equipment normally required to modify the direct current output from the photovoltaic cells.  This is a significant design issue as inverters cause an efficiency loss and currently cost $0.70/watt of the total installed system cost of approximately $7.00/watt.

Overall, the company claims that the Solarphasec 3D Spin Cell Generator beats conventional solar panels on performance and price. I don’t have enough technical expertise to chime in much on the details of the tech, and I don’t see any independent verification of that yet, but that would be nice, wouldn’t it? (I’m checking in with the company about testing.)

Here are some more details on cost:

Financial comparison of conventional PV to Solarphasec

  • Financial models were built, using System Advisor Model, a photovoltaic system modeling engine developed by Sandia Labs for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • The baseline model is a 4kW flat panel system, consisting of  forty 100 watt panels plus a DC/AC inverter.
  • The Solarphasec model is a 4kW array of Solarphasec Spin 3D Solar Power Generators.

Solarphasec Installed Cost comparisons:

Aside from efficiency and performance improvements, what really struck me about the tech is that it looks so cool! In particular, when looking at the image on the right, I thought, “this could be installed not only for generating electricity but also as a work of art.”

Images of the solar cones on more typical streetlights and poles aren’t as flashy, but they still look pretty cool.

Regarding that solar cone power pole/tree on the right, Solarspheric writes: “The 17 Kilowatt Power pole serves as an art form with the ability to produce 17,000 watts in a 3 square meter footprint.”

Solarspheric opened a new funding round in February. It aims to raise $3.5 million to fund set-up costs “associated with the full-scale commercial production of its Sentinel Spin Cell range.”

If you want to learn more, check out the site, and especially the tech’s performance advantages.

What do you think? Winning? Serious flaws and impossible claims? I’m going to go with the former, but cautiously — I’ve written about many technologies that have not yet panned out as promised, but I’m hoping these solar cones from Solarspheric are all the company’s site says they are.

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About the Author

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

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  • PhotonicalPhacts

    just the facts ma’am……Can’t see any physics, maths or engineering to back up these fantastic claims. Until I do, I will remain highly skeptical about this as a viable solar technology….lots of great quotes on their website, here’s one to add: “if it looks to good to be true, it probably is…”

  • Bob_Wallace

    Does anyone have an idea what they are talking about in these paragraphs?

    “The proprietary electromechanical function of the system increases the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells deployed in the system leading to significantly higher output power compared to an equivalent footprint of a standard solar panel.

    The proprietary electromechanical function is designed to provide alternating current output for electrical distribution without the need for inverter equipment normally required to modify the direct current output from the photovoltaic cells.”

    I used to build electro-mechanical lab equipment. I can’t believe that there is a e-m way to convert DC from the cells to AC more efficiently than is done with solid state components.

    Long time ago DC to AC inverters were DC motors running AC generators. That was far from efficient. Modern inverters are well above 90% efficient.

    • I have no idea what those sentences mean, but when I read things like that I just assume it’s something put out by a Chinese company that has no relation to the actual product. It could be an honest attempt at a con, or it could simply be lost in translation.

  • guest

    Since this claims to generate AC instead of DC, I can’t see how I could incorporate such into my system even if/when available unless I segregated (rewired) certain circuits to operate off of this directly, but then it’d only be functional during day light (since no storage aspect possible that I can detect). Can’t charge a battery bank with AC. This would suck in winter, esp. in snow country, unless up on guyed pole(s).

    Maybe that’s why it’s shaped like a ‘dunce-cap’. – twice as ‘efficient’ (maybe) but barely half as useful.

  • Now that the cost of PV has gotten so low, it makes sense to start improving output per square metre by mucking about with three dimensional shapes. They will of course cost more to make than a simple flat panel, but the extra cost could certainly be worth it due to increased output per square metre and more even output through the day. They could be very useful for flat roof installations and I will also note an important design feature – it should be impossible for a bird to perch on top of one.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Please explain how that might work.

      Solar panels work best when pointed directly at the Sun.

      With these inverted cones only a small percentage of the collector is going to be facing the Sun at any given time.

      Lots of the collector area will be in the shade (except for those brief times when the Sun is directly over them). And then none of the collecting surface will be at a 90 degree angle to the Sun.

      You can’t pack them tight. Do that and you start shading one cone with another when the Sun is lower in the sky.

      • It is a very inefficient use of PV surface area. But if you don’t care about that, they have some advantages. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon they will catch more sunshine than a fixed flat panel. Personally, I wouldn’t stack little cones next to each other, if I had a big roof I’d use one big cone.

        Stacking lots of ittle ones next to each other is less of an advantage. Ignoring angle of incidence effects nothing is lost, the light is all pretty much falling on solar collectors, but yeah, angle of incidence might be a problem. I didn’t think of that at all and I don’t know how much of an effect it will have on performance, since every collecting surface is curved instead of flat. Maybe the problem won’t be so bad with thin cells.

        So maybe the advantages for lots of little ones are down to, looks easy to install, don’t catch the wind so much, and gives bad film makers something new for villians to fall on.

        • Bob_Wallace

          As the price of PV continues to fall I wonder if we’ll see panel installations on east and west facing roofs in order to extend the solar day.

          Given that most homes are built without regard to the compass there should be a large number of homes with rear roofs facing east, southeast, southwest, and west. Whole roof installation could create large numbers of panels performing maximally at different times of the day.

          If we can hit the $1/watt installed goal I suspect we’ll see that happening.

          (Covering ~100% of the roof areas not facing the street would eliminate much of the aesthetic objection.)

          • I’m interested in anything that can flatten and stretch out the power curve of PV without too much extra cost because it could pay better if fixed flat panel PV is pushing down electricity around the middle of the day, and because it could potentially result in further cuts to CO2 emissions by causing fossil fuel generators to shut down earlier and start up later. But since roof space isn’t really a limiting factor here in Australia, just cheap flat panels facing west (and possibly east, but there’s not so much demand early in the morning) does seem likely to be the best solution.

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  • Bob_Wallace

    I wanna see proof.

    The cone standing alone – part is facing north and those cells are not going to get hit by sunlight very often.

    The cone tree – built in shade.

    No inverter? Lower installation costs? Lower engineering costs? Lower balance of system costs?

    How do they get from DC to grid AC? How do they deal with less-exposed cells pulling down system performance? They’ve always got part of the array in the shade.

    How could it possibly be less work to install these little puppies as opposed to slapping down ranks of flat panels?

    Why would an engineer charge less per watt to design the system?

    How could the mounting systems possibly be cheaper than simple metal racks? Just consider that tree thing.

    Finally, they’ve got to chop up and mount a lot of cells on their Hershey Kiss. That’s labor intensive.

    Color me highly skeptical….

    • Something to note that you can see in the video but was left sort of invisible if you didn’t watch that: The cone spins…so there is no part in shadow for long. Reportedly, the company has found that “because of the flash rate variability and edge of cloud effect, it actually produces more electricity than if the all of the panels where in the sun all the time…”

      Planning a follow-up post, but waiting on some info.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I don’t know what this means – ” flash rate variability and edge of cloud effect “. Perhaps there’s something to their apparatus that might outweigh the other apparent losses.

        However, if it’s spinning it would be true that there is ” no part in shadow for long”, also means that there is no part in the sun for long.
        Spinning – are they creating AC by spinning the cones at a steady rate and using brush contacts to create a pulsed output?

        If they are spinning then there’s likely a power loss for the motor and more stuff to wear out.

        • yeah, i know, but this is an initial comment from an anonymous source who said that looking at these comments/concerns here was funny. but he said more info would be coming out and will have to wait to follow up on all this. we’ll see

  • L33t4im

    Awesome. Reduce net area impacted by the technology while increasing the net energy production and better ROI than PVs. The applicability is amazing as well. Installations on telephone poles, streetlights, tops of buildings, etc is a great way to not consume more green space. If I had 5 thumbs, I’d give this 5 thumbs up.

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