Jorge Chapa

SOLAR BALLOONS: CoolEarth gets $21 Million in Funding

by , 03/03/08

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It’s easy to mistake these buoyant solar panels from CoolEarth for a child’s balloons caught in a power line, but these shiny floating photovoltaic panels are scientist’s latest attempt at getting the highest possible efficiency out of a solar cell with the fewest materials. The Solar Balloon’s light material and bowl-like shape allows for sunlight to be directed to its center without having to track the sun’s movement throughout the day.


The concentrated solar collectors direct the sunlight to a solar panel, regardless of where the sun is in the sky, instead of trying to track the moving sun. The eight foot balloon is divided into two parts, with one half made out of a polished mirror-like material and the other of a transparent polymer. The spherical shape of the balloon ensures that as long as the sun is shining upon it, that sunlight will be concentrated towards the solar cell.

CoolEarth claims that by using this technology, they can get the cost of solar power to a level similar to that of natural gas. The balloons aren’t meant for personal use, as the size makes them unwieldy for most urban uses. The company is exploring locating them around farmland, where the open fields would allow the installation of a large number of them. CoolEarth has just gotten about $21 million in funding so expect to hear more news from them soon.

+ CoolEarth Solar Balloons

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7 Comments

  1. Geomancer December 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Awesome, We were considering a solar field on our Colorado land. Is this a viable cost effective alternative? Also add to my list of questions those of Makhong Kurt.

  2. NewWays » Green/C... April 11, 2008 at 2:18 am

    [...] could be more refreshing than casting off your carbon shackles with a bunch of solar balloons? Our favorite environmental architect visionary, Joseph Cory, of Geotectura has seized this dream [...]

  3. Inhabitat » SOLAR... April 10, 2008 at 10:31 am

    [...] could be more refreshing than casting off your carbon shackles with a bunch of solar balloons? Our favorite environmental architect visionary, Joseph Cory, of Geotectura has seized this dream [...]

  4. Hugo March 4, 2008 at 4:38 am

    A good spend 21 million dollar. This sounds great. But it is a bit more complex than it looks at first hand. But still, nice technology. I bet you can make these things floating, for offshore applications…

  5. Mekhong Kurt March 4, 2008 at 12:36 am

    In addition to the questions the first contributor above raised, I have some.

    (1.) How much power can be generated by a single balloon?

    (2.) If large-scale production were started today, what would be the approximate cost of a single balloon?

    (3.) How durable are the materials from which the balloons are made? Put another way, what is the average product lifetime?

    (4.) What is the energy required to manufacture a single balloon?

    (5.) At current transportation costs, what is, say, the per-mile cost to transport them — including not only fuel, but wear-and-tear on the transport, labor costs, packaging, insurance — in short, all the indirect costs as well as direct ones?

    (6.) How difficult are these to maintain?

    (7.) What sort of maintanence schedule do they require?

    (8.) What maintenance activities are required?

    (9.) Your story says the target market isn’t individual homeowners because of the balloons’ size. However, solar panels take space, as do wind turbines, water-driven energy systems, and so on, yet in many instances, these are suitable for an individual home (leaving aside the current high costs of some of the technologies). Therefore, why is an eight-foot balloon anymore space-consuming that, say, a medium-size wind turbine or a solar-panel array? (Water wheels probably get a break here.)

    (10.) How difficult are these ballons to install? That is, can someone like me — a real klutz when it comes to anything much more complex than removing/replacing screws and the like — reasonably expect to be able to install one myself? Or am I going to have to be a specially-trained technician or mechanical engineer to accomplsih the task?

    From so many questions, you probably think I’m about to blast the concept.

    I’m a HUGE proponent of any technology that can help get us away from oil and coal. In fact, though I live in Thailand, my Sister and I own some property in northeast Texas, including a smallish (by Texas standards) ranch/farm covering 237 acres. In recent months I’ve been urging her — she, her husband, and our Mother live on the ranch — to investigate solar panels for their homes, as Texas has a decent tax-break (but not refund) program for people using green energy technologies. I myself am trying to find out if it’s worth approaching a wind turbine manufacturer to propose leasing our land to them to erect a wind turbine farm. (And yes, there is a profit motive that is part of my interest; as matters now stand, we’ve basically earned nothing from the ranch in the twenty years since we inherited it.)

    I *hope* this technology is cost-effective per unit energy produced. Ideally, it is a low-maintenance/long-life product as well.

    I’m especially interested in solar power because of its consistency and cleanness. I also like that in low-tech situations it can be harnessed, if on very small scales, for next to nothing. For instance, some time ago I read an article about a project in some abjectly poor part of Africa (which doesn’t narrow the possible location down very much, does it???) where some outfit was teaching illiterate, impoverished Africans how to make solar collecters using materials as simple, at the very lowest-tech end, as cardboard and aluminum foil to make solar ovens. You can’t much less expensive, in terms of materials costs, than that. (Granted, transportation costs are an entirely different kettle of fish.)

    Getting back to these balloons, if they truly aren’t practical for individual homeowners, how about for a *group* of homeowners (or renters, for that matter)? Let’s say there is a neighborhood six blocks by six blocks, with 20 homes on each block (five per side). In all, that’s 120 homes. Would these balloons offer one possible practical solution towards moving to alternate energy sources?

    By the way, this entire website is great!

    Mekhong Kurt
    Bangkok, Thailand

  6. Jon March 3, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    what about pollution and scaling from rainfall? What’s the cost of making sure the transparent polymer remains clean?

  7. Nick Simpson March 3, 2008 at 6:11 am

    If it works, this is great – another step forward! The sooner certain renewables can compete, the better, because I think we’re at the point that once they’re financially viable people will actively make the switch…

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