Prototype IBM solar collector could revolutionize solar technology

By on April 22, 2013, 1:30 PM

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.

User Comments: 11

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JC713 JC713 said:

This is a big win for solar. The price needs to be right though. Watercooling in general can get expensive, no matter the usage.

DarkDragon7 said:


I would like to install it in my house, but the old one is prohibited in my country since it will damage the profit of the electrical company (Government).

Guest said:

IBM notes that each 1x1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts on average during a typical eight hour day in a sunny region.

This is a serious pet peeve of mine. A Watt is a rate (joules/second), not a quantity. I don't live 15 mph from work. Nobody would say that because it's silly and yet time and time again (usually in PR material) someone refers to a quantity as Watts.

I'm assuming in this context that they really mean Watt hours (which would be pretty awesome from a 1 x 1 cm square) even though from a physics/engineering standpoint that's kind of a bastard unit.

Guest said:

I think when they don't mention hrs is because it means watts per hour, otherwise they would say watts minute, etc. The same when you buy a light bulb.

lipe123 said:

I thought the same thing when I read the watt rating but then I read the "with 8 hours of sunlight" so I'm thinking its more like 200W over 8h so more like 25Watts per hour

VitalyT VitalyT said:

That looks very nice! If it can make 200-250 watt from each centimeter a day, the entire dish that's about 100sq.m. will give about 200-250 MWatt a day, now that's really impressive. This is enough to feed 10,000 houses. Unless I'm missing something here, because in that case this thing should be everywhere soon!

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

If I'm not mistaken it is the concentrated area that collects energy, not the entire dish. If this is the case no it would not power 10,000 houses.

VitalyT VitalyT said:

That was an idealistic figure, if sun was really to shine 8 hours a day, and if your average house would consume not more than 250kWatt a day (which is in fact plenty), so in all, divide the idealistic figure by 10, you should have a very realistic figure, for 1000 houses, and that in itself is a lot!

Perhaps the only downside is the cost of such dish, which I'm guessing is in millions, considering the innovation, but still, quite awesome and a good prospective for the future.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'm calculating no more than 500kw per hour.

I'm guessing the center is no larger than 4 feet square that is collecting energy. 1 square cm collecting 250W's per day, would calculate to 1500 square cm collecting 3.7 Million Watts per day. Divide that by 12 which would be on average how many day-light hours per day, and you get 310KW per hour.

Would 300KW per hour feed 1000 homes? This watt hour crap really confuses me to no end. Especially when they say 900KW Hours per month. What are they talking about a hourly timeframe or a monthly timeframe?

1 person liked this | VitalyT VitalyT said:

Ok, I looked at it in more detail, from other online sources. And from what I can see, there is no accurate information at all. That picture with a huge receiver seems to have nothing to do with the figures the article provides, crappy writing as usual.

According to the following source: [link]

- The entire receiver combines hundreds of chips and provides 25 kilowatts of electrical power.

But that's referring to a receiver they are using in the lab perhaps that looks way smaller than the big installation picture. I start thinking the entire thing about the huge dish may be a photoshop job.

The only real video about all this:


The thing that does make sense - the sun throws 85,000 TWatt of energy onto our planet, while the humanity uses about 15,000TWatt.

This watt hour crap really confuses me to no end. Especially when they say 900KW Hours per month

It's easy: watts are measured on hourly base always, so in your case 900kw per month is 900/(30*24)=1.25watt per hour. Your desktop PC is probably consuming about 100 times more energy than that

1 person liked this | VitalyT VitalyT said:

I was curious about more precise figures of energy being used and given off by the sun, so here they are...

  1. In USA an average household consumes 30 kilowatt a day;
  2. On an average the sun lands about 1 kilowatt an hour on each square meter of the earth's surface;
  3. The above figure translates into 10 times more energy than needed by an average household.

In all, If the new technology is capable of harvesting just 10% of the energy that reaches the surface, the fossil-fuel era is over

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