A research team at MIT has developed solar power technology that may make the photo-voltaic panels that are so popular today obsolete. The temperature of the heat that it produces is so intense that it can burn through wood or cut through steel like butter.
Today, if you take a look at homes that are powered by solar energy, you are most likely to see photo-voltaic panels atop the roof of the buildings. For over forty years, this has been the primary way in which most people view solar energy. The photo-voltaic panels collect energy from the sun, convert it into electrical energy, and store it in battery cells somewhere within the home.
But the days of the photo-voltaic cells being the dominant form of solar energy may be coming to an end. Particularly if the researchers at MIT have anything to say about it.
The device causing so much excitement is something called a parabolic collector. A solar collector is a means of focusing the rays of the sun onto a particular spot and collecting the energy generated. A parabolic solar collector is an array of mirrors that take the rays from the sun and focus them on a singular point. In the design that the researchers of MIT have worked on, this singular point is a pipe that contains a special liquid whose function is to collect and contain the energy generated by the parabolic collector. The stored energy is later extracted in the form of electricity via a turbine generator.
The idea of parabolic collectors itself is not new. What usually happens is that the water or liquid in the heated pipes turn to steam because of the applied heat. The steam, in turn, drives the turbines which create the electricity.
What is new in the MIT scenario is the actual design of the parabolic collector. The key component in this new design is a twelve foot dish or mirror with the amazing ability to focus the energy from the sun to such an intense level that it is hundreds of times more powerful than normal sunlight. So hot, in fact, that a piece of paper placed in the path of the focused beam will instantly burst into flame. So intense, that water placed in its path is instantly converted into steam. In other words, energy from the sun can be harvested at a rate 30, 40, or more times the rate that it can currently be collected via photo-voltaic methodology.
The immediate practical application of this is that the payback time for someone investing in solar energy will decrease significantly. Normally, when a homeowner invests in solar energy technology, the payback time is somewhere between seven to ten years. With this new technology, however, the payback time can be as little as three, and maybe even two years.
By John Kunziar