A team of IBM researchers is working on a solar concentrating dish that will be able to collect 80% of incoming sunlight and convert it to useful energy. The High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal system will be able to concentrate the power of 2,000 suns while delivering fresh water and cool air wherever it is built. As an added bonus, IBM states that the system would be just one third the cost third of current comparable technologies.
Based on information by Greenpeace International and the European Electricity Association, IBM claims that it would require only two percent of the Sahara’s total area to supply the world’s energy needs. The HCPVT system is designed around a huge parabolic dish covered in mirror facets. The dish is supported and controlled by a tracking system that moves along with the sun. Sun rays reflect off of the mirror into receivers containing triple junction photovoltaic chips, each able to convert 200-250 watts over eight hours. Combined hundred of the chips provide 25 kilowatts of electricity.
The entire dish is cooled with liquids that are 10 times more effective than passive air methods, keeping the HCPVT safe to operate at a concentration of 2,000 times on average, and up to 5,000 times the power of the sun. The direct cooling technique is inspired by the branched blood supply system of the human body and has already been used to cool high performance computers like the Aquasar. The system will also be able to create fresh water by passing 90 degree Celsius liquid through a distillation system that vaporizes and desalinates up to 40 liters each day while still generating electricity. It will also be able to amazingly offer air conditioning by a thermal drive absorption chiller that converts heat through silica gel.
Replacing expensive steel and glass with concrete and pressurized foils, the HCPVT is less costly than many other similar installations. Its high tech coolers and molds can be manufactured in Switzerland, and construction provided by individual companies on-site. Through their design, IBM believes they can maintain a cost of less than 10cents per kilowatt hour.
Cost effective and efficient, the HCPVT system could be vital to developing nations. Remote tourist locations could also benefit from the technology, eliminating the need to establish a large integrated infrastructure. Several prototypes of the dish will first be built in Biasca and Rüschlikon, Switzerland.