The Rise of Solar

Think of all the appliances, gadgets, and tools you used today that used electricity. Can you think of one that did not require it? Our daily lives are becoming more modern, and with that change comes a demand for more energy. Also, even though the population growth rate is decreasing, the world population rises every day and as a result, electricity consumption rises with it. In 2005, the average world energy consumption was 2.3 kW/capita, which corresponds to about 15 TeraWatts (TW). At the projected growth rate seen in figure 1, by 2050, the amount of energy we would need for the global population would be 21 TW [1].

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Figure 1 : Population Growth and Population Growth Rate per Year [1]

Currently, most of the energy provided comes from fossil fuels, which supply roughly 86% of the total energy required. Hubbert’s peak, which states that oil production follows a bell shaped curve, predicts that the peak of oil production will occur around 2020 [2]. In order to keep up with the increase in demand for energy and a predicted decline in oil, the other energy sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar need to be advanced to take up the slack.

In the solar energy sector, one such advancement is looking promising : the V3 Solar Cell [3]. The company that makes it, V3 Solar, claims that their product is able to generate over 20 times more electricity with the same amount of PV (Photovoltaic cells) than the industry-standard flat solar panels. Or it can produce the same amount of electricity as a standard flat panel with only 1/20th of the PV cells. It manages to do so thanks to a slew of new improvements – concentrating lenses, a conical shape, and “dynamic spin.” With its unique shape and rotating inner PV cone, it will be able to harvest the solar energy at all angles during the day and during any season. This is a large leap in efficiency over the flat panels, which are only able to harvest at maximum potential during specific times of the day, and at specific locations on earth where sun intensity is the brightest, as seen in Figure 2. If this claim is true, then the V3 Solar cell will be able to be installed at any location and provide a very cheap source of electricity, enabling many buildings to produce some of their own power.

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Figure 2 : PV Radiation in America [1]

Furthermore, the V3 is made up of two separate cones, with the top layer being a lens concentrator, and the bottom layer being the PV cells. The outer layer serves to focus the light no matter what orientation the sun is in, and to create a “cascade of electrons” to produce electricity. The spinning of the bottom layer also serves to evenly dissipate the heat created by the concentration lens, so less energy is lost due to heat (a significant problem of static, non-moving PV cells). In order to produce the spinning motion, a small fraction (roughly 1 amp) of the produced electricity is diverted to a motor and to reduce resistance, motion is assisted by a ring of magnets [3].

This idea is a new, novel approach to a PV cell, and if the claims made by V3 Solar prove to be true, and V3 Solar manages to design a mass production version, then this product will revolutionize the solar sector. Solar energy can be well on its way to becoming the next big thing and will have a good chance of supplying us when oil goes out.

References:

[1] https://courses.utexas.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-5102603-dt-content-rid-22327474_1/courses/2012_fall_18455_ME_343/Solar%20Energy_ME343_112912%20%5BCompatibility%20Mode%5D.pdf

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_peak_theory

[3] http://www.gizmag.com/v3solar-spin-cell/24352/

[4] http://v3solar.com/technology/

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Rise of Solar

  1. Thanks for posting this blog piece about a new solar technology; this company looks like it has some potentially game changing ideas in terms of solar panel design. As a self-proclaimed innovative species, humans do tend to latch on to certain inventions and try to optimize around them rather than invent new products and solutions. Think about Dr. Webber’s comments on when most of the energy generators (steam turbines/combustion engines) in use today were invented, the 1800s. So, the fact that this company is approaching the solar panel efficiency issue from a different angle is refreshing. Hypothesizing, I guess since solar panels were designed first to power machines in space, flat panels did not have to deal with the problem of a rising and setting sun since the sun always shines in space. All the new design components of this solar panel look like they should be explored further, and I am happy a company is looking into them.

    However, I would be curious to hear more about the price point of the technology. That issue is inevitably the real deal breaker for this company. Unfortunately, although better, more efficient, and more intelligent designs might be possible in the solar field, a certain amount of inertia must be overcome due to the scale of the flat solar panel industry. A lot of people have heard about the Solyndra failure. Even though that company might have had a better product design, they could not compete with the cheap manufacturing that existed and still exists in other parts of the world. V3Solar will have to have a certain $/kWh ratio to make a significant entry into the market, and to be a real game changer, a better $/kWh to other forms of electricity fuels such as natural gas and coal.

    Do you know how far they are away from market? Or do you know anything about the team, who funds them and how they got together? They seem to be well funded and understanding the make-up of the company itself can usually give good insight until their future success.

  2. This is a very nice post about solar energy and a good topic too. Most of our daily-used tools or appliances are depend on electricity or electromotor. Electricity is a much cleaner, portable and more convenient energy form compared to fossil fuel such as crude oil and coal. I am surprised that the author also mentioned the Hubbert peak theory which is a well useful theory to predict non-renewable resources especially fossil fuel.
    M. King Hubbert is best known for his studies on the production capacities of oil and gas fields. He predicted that the petroleum production from all oil & gas fields in a petroleum province, such as the U.S., over time would resemble a bell curve, peaking when half of the petroleum has been extracted, and then falling off. At the 1956 meeting of the API in San Antonio, Texas, Hubbert made the prediction that overall oil production would peak in the United States in the late 1960s to the early 1970s. He became famous when this prediction came true in 1970. [1]
    As the author mentioned in the post that the world overall oil peak will occur around 2020, the oil peak of the U.S. has peaked in the 1970s. Although more and more Enhanced Oil Recovery technics have been applied to petroleum industry these years and have made some contributions to oil production, it is very hard to make the oil production reach the amount in the 1970s.
    Besides, majority of electricity that we have today is generated from fossil fuel such as coal and natural gas. According to Dr. Ted W. Patzek’s study, in the 365 days of year 2010, about 154 days’ electricity is from burning coal, 91 days are from natural gas, 70 days are form Nuclear; 29 days are from Hydroelectric, 9 days on wood and other biomass, 9 days on wind 2 days on geothermal, 1 day on petroleum and only about 2 hours of U.S. electricity is from solar thermal and PV.[2] Therefore, even we have very efficiency Solar panels to generate electricity, we still have a very long way to go since the gap left by fossil fuel is huge. If we imagine a country as a control volume which has energy flows in and energy flows out, its civilization also depends on the density of energy flow. Its civilization will degrade if its energy flow density decreases. This can be easily explained by the fact that city residents usually consume more energy than that of people who lives in rural areas.
    I am just curious whether solar energy could completely take over the role of fossil fuel due to the fact that it has a lower energy density compared to fossil fuel. But solar energy can be a very good supplement together with other renewable energy forms, such as biomass, wind, tide and hydro, to take up the slack left by fossil fuel.
    Overall, it is a very nice post about a new solar technology. Thanks for posting it, and it is rewarding to read your post.

    [1] Patzek, Tad W. Earth, Environment, Energy, and Economics. 4th ed. Austin: University of Texas, 2012. Print.
    [2] Patzek, Tad. Sustainability: How Far Are We From Thou? Austin: Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering, 20 Sept. 2012. Ppt. Source: DOE EIA, accessed 09/18/2012

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