Thursday, March 26, 2009

Squeezing More Power From Solar Energy

I was pleased to hear from someone at Cool Energy Inc., a developing company out of Boulder Colorado, who posted a response to my last article on how to Master Solar Panel Efficiency. They liked the article, and more vindicatingly added that they have been developing just such a system over the last 2 years thanks to the brainstorming of the company's founder and CEO, Sam Weaver, father Sam Weaver Sr., and brother Dan Weaver, during a Christmas holiday chin wag. I was downright tickled.

However, remembering the chant of consistent success as delivered by leadership guru John Maxwell, "yesterday's victories are over, focus on today's battles", I am forging on in this same vein to see if I can mine any more nuggets from the higher solar panel efficiency golden goose.

In reading through the articles and associated links from Cool Energy Inc., I was impressed by the fact that they widen the needs summary list in their approach to developing solar energy. (Translation: they pointed out that if you are making the effort to provide for a home, why stop only at heat, when you can also provide electricity too with the same device.) I found it a very motivating eye opener and decided to take a closer look at the panel construction of a solar collector for ideas where I could make additional improvements. Here's what I came up with.

Harness the Parabola in the Solar Panel

To start with, we'll need to do the obvious and that is make sure the maximum solar exposure is hitting the copper pipes. Instead of laying the copper pipes onto a flat metal backboard which has been spray painted flat black, we'll alter the shape of the backboard to form parabolic trays. Then we'll line the trays with a reflective coating to form a sort of mirror which focuses on the copper pipe in the center. If the pipes are roughly 4 inches apart, then the parabolic shape will collect the sun's rays over that width and focus them onto a 1/2 inch wide pipe, increasing the temperature of the fluid higher than would normally be collected with a flat backing board. Here is a sketch demonstrating this idea.

By increasing the temperature of the fluid, we end up collecting more energy overall giving us more to work with when converting it to other usable forms like electricity or mechanical power. Cool Energy Inc. makes use of this principle by employing evacuated glass or lexan tubes to encase the copper pipe collectors. This is a much higher tech version of the same 'tray' idea, using half of the evacuated tube as a mirror to focus more rays onto the copper tube, but also insulating it by means of the vacuum.

Tesla's radiant energy collector
Now, part of Cool Energy's approach makes their system unique on the market because they are developing a solution to provide both heat AND electricity. They have developed the Stirling heat engine further to create a generator that can make use of excess solar heat collected with the panel, and turn it into electricity. I won't add to that solution itself since I believe they are doing a great job as it already stands.

Instead, I would like to turn back to my old favourite (yes, I like to using
Canadian spelling... we like throwing extra letters in all over the place) inventor, Nicola Tesla, and see if we can employ some of his ideas to make this project produce even more.

Nicky boy, brilliant lad that he was, discovered back in the late 1800's that our Sun was bombarding our atmosphere constantly with some type of radiation. We know now that he was detecting gamma rays. Nicola's research led him to discover that when this radiation bombards a metal plate, like a collector, and if that plate were connected electrically to a strong electrical ground wire, that there would exist a voltage differential between the collector plate, and the ground wire.

Well hot dog... look at that parabolic tray thingy I described in the previous section. If it were made of some sort of metal, it could act like a collector plate for all those little gamma gizmos. All we'd have to do to make use of that, would be to provide it with a good strong opposite charge from something like a ground wire.

Do you doubt me? (Go ahead... make my day... OK, OK, quit laughing. I'm no Clint Eastwood.) Anyway, check out this guy's YouTube channel. Boxa888 is a pretty cool electrical inventor type guy who sets up lots of Tesla experiments and captures them on video. Here is a vlog (video log) account of some of his radiant energy experiments...

Now if you're collecting this energy anyway, why not beef it up a bit, amplifying it to something we might be able to make some use of? Here's another YouTube vid showing how to make a circuit that filters electricity out of thin air! What if we feed that circuit with our radiant energy collector plate? This video even provides the circuit plan and parts list to build your own!

Even more strange ideas
Now I don't want to get too weird so I think I'll leave the idea of using thermocouples to convert the heat inside the panel into even more electricity. We could go too far after all.

As always, let me know your thoughts. Click the rating boxes or leave a comment!



  1. now, i don't know what thermocouples are, but i have an idea for creating more heat inside the heat engine. My idea relates to the greenhouse effect: is there a metal/product we could use to let the sunlight enter naturally but be unable to escape? like the atmosphere.

  2. Hey! That's an awesome idea! I don't know of a material itself, but there may be a treatment that could be applied or a process... like polishing to a high finish, or making the outer shell of the metal more dense... or maybe it would have to be less dense... not sure of the bahaviours occurring in heated metal.

    I'll have to do some reading about metallurgy for this one.

    Thanks for commenting!




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