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back to article Solar power towers overpower PV panels by 20X

A group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed 3D mounting techniques for photovoltaic cells that can increase power output per footprint by up to 20 times over that of fixed flat panels. "Our findings suggest that harnessing solar energy in three dimensions can open new avenues towards …

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WTF?

Breakthrough?

Looks like crap to me. How can a small panel at a fixed angle behave any differently to a larger panel at the same fixed angle?

The sunlight per unit area of the earth's surface is fixed there is no way to get more power from a given footprint except by pretending the shadow cast by a vertical structure isn't part of the footprint.

There may be some mechanical advantage in mounting smaller panels on a support structure but there is no breakthrough or revolution here.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Breakthrough?

Maybe the guys at MIT know more about this than you?

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Boffin

Re: Breakthrough?

This is basically what Solyndra's core IP was about - 3d solar cells that collect the sunlight very efficiently regardless of the angle of the sun, rather than flat panels. Their preferred implementation was cylinders, but the patents cover this MIT structure.

In the end, the maximum solar flux is 1 kW per square meter, and nothing will change that.

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Re: Breakthrough?

"Looks like crap to me. How can a small panel at a fixed angle behave any differently to a larger panel at the same fixed angle?"

Well, the nice thing about the scientific method is that it relies on empirical evidence, not on what seems like what might make sense. It's easy enough to test whether or not their method of mounting panels results in greater power per unit area of ground it covers...

...which, apparently, they've done.

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Headmaster

Re: Breakthrough?

The sleight of hand is of course in that phrase 'the ground it covers'.

I can build a square mile of panel surface that shades two square miles of ground from the sun, and hang it from a crane. look at the ground the crane is resting on and declare that I have now 100 times greater power density.

It is common for 'green' energy projects to make false and/or misleading claims - indeed renewable energy as a whole IS a false and/or misleading claim, but its rare for it to be as blatant as this.

I am sure its slightly better than it was before, but as another poster points out, solar flux is 1Kw/sq meter of the planets surface, and if you collect that on a solar panel it wont be growing plants somewhere in their shade.

The staggering thing is that people believe this stuff. A small advance in an insignificant industry blown up by media hype into something that will 'Save The Planet.

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Re: Breakthrough? @JP19

Who said the small panels were fixed? This paragraph:

"Perhaps more important than the successful models of such 3D mounts the team has tested, is the analytical software developed that can model different 3D configurations in a wide variety of latitudes, seasons, and weather conditions."

suggests they can be manoeuvred into more efficient positions as the conditions require. OK, agreed, this has been done before in solar farms. Nevertheless, the improvements over the basic fixed panels used on residential rooftops seem possible.

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Re: Breakthrough?

I guess given a relatively slender tower, one advantage of this arrangement is that it *could* be combined with agriculture, since relatively little ground will be in shadow for long.

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Facepalm

Re: Breakthrough?

You beat me to it. By the looks of it, it's all it is.

I was going to say "so, 10 times the efficiency by stacking 10 of them on a tower above your house?"

Riiiiiiight. I think I could do with a few grand of investment money to "test" this theory of mine.

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WTF?

15 Thimbs up for Franklin

I cant believe Franklin has the highest amount of thumbs up for his comment

"well science needs evidence and figures - which they say they've got"

I've just re-read the the article looking for any evidence that they havent just incresed the power output per square foot by by stacking panels up (see my "bleedin obvious" comment , along with pretty much all the other comments)

I still cant find anything special , unique or any kind of breakthrough or innovation here - could someone please explain?

ALSO I BET they didnt include the area of the shadow that thing casts in the power/sq foot figure

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FAIL

Re: Breakthrough?

And best of all, the MIT folks have no data!

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You misunderstand the research. Check it out on physorg.com, which is where most science stuff on el Reg is regurgitated from anyway... I'll leave that compliant for another time. Don't bother reading their forum/comments though... There they be dragons. and trolls. and nuthatches. Especially nuthatches.

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Holmes

"per unit of mounting area"

This concept seems erily similar to my patent pending 'Nuclear Power Station Multiplier' design, where I show progressive power output increases per acre simply by arranging Power Stations in what I've come to call a 'stack'.

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I see you're standing on the shoulders of giants, who're standing on the... Why it's genius all the way down!

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Anonymous Coward

If...

If I haven't seen further, it was because giants were standing on my shoulders...

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Stop

Trees got there first

I'd have thought that imitating natural light-gathering structures would be the best way to go.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Trees got there first

Indeed, previous research pointed to trees being a perfect 3D solar collecting structure..and it looks nicer than this abomination.

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Holmes

Re: Trees got there first

Tree's only have to worry about efficiently collecting light.

They don't have to worry about commercial economics of building the structure to gather the light, then converting that light into energy and then supplying it into a power grid and doing so in a cost effective fashion that gives a return on investment to shareholders.

It's amazing how much freedom you get to innovate when having to turn a buck is taken out of the equation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Trees got there first

and indeed it has been done, some kid got national headlines last year for arranging solar cells in a leaf like pattern and claiming efficiency gains which were roundly debunked because he'd used a flawed method of measuring efficiency.

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Yag

Re: Trees got there first

As if natural competition and selection won't work in favor of the most efficient designs - Eg. the best bang for the bucks... erm... available nutriments.

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Boffin

Re: Trees got there first - Bring me a shubbery

Sorry to point out this one small item - I'm not too sure how easy it is to move trees about.

Towers of PV? - easy

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FAIL

Re: Re: Trees got there first

s/commercial economics/biochemical costs/

s/light into energy/light into sugar/

s/supplying it into a power grid/supplying it into a vascular system/

s/return on investment to shareholders/return on investment to acorns/

Its amazing how much freedom you get to innovate when thwarting herbivores is taken out of the equation.

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Thumb Down

Re: Moving Towers of PV? - easy

No so easy when they're plugged in. Think roots.

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Trollface

Re: Trees got there first

One of the easiest ways is just to use trees. I don't know, perhaps chopping them into "wood" or something. Then "burning" it and finally using this as some sort of magical "fuel". We can make power from this. Then planting more trees.

Oh, but for some reason digging all the materials up, refining it, producing solar equipment and wiring it into the grid is more efficient.

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Re: Trees got there first

You answered it yourself. Burning trees is inefficient. Especially if you want electricity from them.

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Pointing down?

Some of the panels seem to be facing down. How are they going to be collecting sun light?

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Re: Pointing down?

Reflection - cheap low efficency panels reflect some of the incoming light, especially at low angles of incidence. In this configuration any light that bounces off the main panel is absorbed by the

other.

If the signal is worth more than the detector it's a common way of making high efficiency photodiodes - putting a larger one facing back at the main receiver to catch any reflection losses.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Pointing down?

Sure if you're trying to detect a tiny number of photons it's a fine way of making a sensitive detector but solar cells are about power and power is maximised when the sun hits the panel at 90 degrees incident angle. My understanding is that you can get significant open circuit voltage rises but available current doesn't increase (essentially a variable impedance source, dependant on incident angle)

I wonder if there are more gains to be made from making the panels matt instead of shiny reflective. Of course then there'd be more heat to dissipate but perhaps direct coupling a water heating system to the panels would work and give plenty of hot water into the bargain.

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Re: Pointing down?

Certainly in the UK it's often better not to try pointing stuff at the sun but to work on reflected light from clouds intead.

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Anonymous Coward

@ AC 0700

* DEPENDENT

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JDX
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pretty

Could see some rather nice sculptures coming from this, nice and Sci-fi.

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Mushroom

It looks very like the second tower is always going to be in shadow, you can't magically increase the amount of sunlight per unit area.

I think you'd be better off stacking solar thermal under PV, you reduce waste and it's not too expensive or complicated.

Nuke, because it doesn't go off in the winter ;)

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Anonymous Coward

"Nuke, because it doesn't go off in the winter"

Actually, Fukushima Dai-ichi "went off" in the winter. Well, the day its meltdown and explosions began was March 11, 2011, which was rather close to spring – but you get my point.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Nuke, because it doesn't go off in the winter"

Actually, schools are teaching kids that spring is the beginning of March these days, because all the teachers are thick and so is everyone at the Met Office. Speaking as the first year of comprehensive school, I predicted 32 years ago to my final year junior school teacher, Mr Hope, that this appalling shit from the uneducated, would be one of an large number of inevitable demonstration of ignorance, created by giving up on teaching children to value facts at any level of rigour, innit.

It's funny, with "fewer" versus "less than" being important today amongst the pseudos who wouldn't recognise an oak tree, (while remaining completely silent about every misconjugation of the verb To Be on Eastenders, "We was!" "'E were" and "Dispatch" seemingly ok among the many "Judgments", along with Billion no longer being bigger than a Miljard,) I heard some guy use fewer for a non integral comparator the other day, or more accurately fewest.

Which is fewest, a ton'o sand or a metric one?

Fucking shocking. I give up.

Ignorance in bliss, I no longer care, I'm beaten. There was a day when I'd stand up and fight over an allegaton that Air France's concorde didn't land at Heathrow to pick up a few extra passengers en route to NY from Paris, but I'm just too old to give a fugue.

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Boffin

Yanks beat y'all on that

The US beat schools on that, given that DST begins at the beginning of March instead of "right after Spring", so maybe that's why schools are teaching the stuff like that. DST before the equinox does sound daft, doesn't it?

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Headmaster

Re: "Nuke, because it doesn't go off in the winter"

History has so many simliar rants that go back hundreds of years.

Nothing special, things change, even the meaning of words can reverse in less than a century.

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JDX
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Re: "Nuke, because it doesn't go off in the winter"

What is this pointless rant on about? No physical law defines seasons based on the equinoxes and it's far more sensible IMO to have seasons defined as 3 months each.

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Headmaster

Re: "seasons defined as 3 months each"

They *ARE* three months each, it's just that the change dates don't align with a calendar-month change

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Boffin

Dynamic v Static

I wonder what the "greeness" difference is between using a dynamic set of panels to follow the sun for best light incidence and this big complex looking tower would be?

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Wonder how they cope with strong winds?

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Joke

"Wonder how they cope with strong winds?"

The really nifty bit, not covered in the paper, is that as the shape adapts to the circumstances they turn into a wind generator at 5 Beaufort or higher.

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Re: "Wonder how they cope with strong winds?"

I've got some neighbours with a tracking array, in theory it's a brilliant idea but in any moderate gust of wind it flattens itself and production slumps.

Unless they manage to get something sorted so that it works a bit more reliably they'll have been better off with a straight fixed one. Not as cool though!

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What is the optical properties of bird shit on these towers ?

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neighbours

Many find the 2D solar parks hideous enough, care to explain how much opposition would these "beauties" gather once built anywhere near populated areas? Surely the efficiency would be at least 5x higher....

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Re: neighbours

Oh, they wont build them near densely populated areas.

London has almost no power stations at all. It leaches and sucks like a huge parasite on the hinterland to provide its food, fuel and energy.

The obvious place for an array of sun follies is right there in the National Parks where the wind follies already are.

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Re: neighbours

I've seen a small one recently. Other than the colour, it looks much like a grape vine orchard. In that, you have rows of panels you can walk between. Not much different than looking at a field of cabbages. Not sure what the fuss is about. Although, I guess glare can be a problem. But that's down to planning, not the panels fault.

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Holmes

Meh

Im going to wait a little longer, and wait for some smart arse (probably apple) to design a self growing nano tree (theres the patent) that grows solar leaves and is therefore the most economical solar panel you can get. it will look nice as others have said.

well if we can create self healing plastics etc, and have nano tech, surely this has to be on someones list.

(bitter non south facing home owner)

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Re: Meh

"self growing nano tree ... that grows solar leaves"

I think this is what they call "a bush".

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Yag
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The important point is...

What is the efficiency per pannel sq.m compared to "traditional" pannels?

Ok, I'll be nice and only ask for the efficiency per cubic meter of the footprint of those horrors...

I'm sure that the tubular cells (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/01/tubular_cells/) have far more potential than this one...

However, I look forward to the covering of skyscrapper with solar cells, just for giggle...

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Anonymous Coward

@ Yag

You do not qualify to participate in a discussion about technology if you think that the correct spelling of certain words is "pannels" and "skyscrapper".

Spell checking functionality is available in popular browsers.

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