Prototype IBM solar collector could revolutionize solar technology

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Today’s solar collectors do an admirable job of collecting free energy from the sun but there’s one huge drawback: if too much energy is concentrated in one place, they run the risk of frying themselves. But that could all change in the near future as a group led by IBM is developing a new solar collector dish with chips that can safely concentrate 2,000 times more energy than traditional chips are capable of.

Known as a High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal system (HCPVT), IBM said the system will be able to convert 80 percent of the collected solar energy at a cost that is three times lower than comparable systems. It could be an ideal solution to install in areas where sustainable energy, drinking water and cool air are scarce commodities.

A prototype HCPVT system utilizes a large parabolic dish with numerous mirror facets. The dish uses a tracking system to determine the optimal position in relation to the sun. Once in position, the sun’s rays reflect off the mirrors onto an array of microchannel-liquid cooled receivers with triple junction photovoltaic chips.

This liquid-cooled method is able to absorb heat and draw it away 10 times more effectively than with passive air cooling. In fact, it’s the same type of cooling system that is used in high-performance computers like Aquasar. IBM notes that each 1x1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts on average during a typical eight hour day in a sunny region.

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