We love UC San Diego. The university continues to remain on the cutting edge of all things green. And they’ve just outdone themselves once again.
Researchers from the school have discovered a way to boost solar energy efficiency rates to 90%.
Why is this important?
Some Background on Solar Energy Efficiency Rates
Today’s solar technology offers efficiency rates between 10% and 30%. Even with these lower thresholds, solar energy is often cheaper than fossil fuel. That’s because the price of solar components continues to fall – while the price of oil, gas, and coal continues to rise.
But 90% energy capture is an astounding number. And once commercialized, this newer breed of solar technology could revolutionize the world.
It is important to note that the researchers at UC San Diego weren’t focusing on photovoltaic solar power (which is the technology we use at Sunline Energy).
The engineering team worked on “concentrating solar power” – a technology that uses large mirrors to “concentrate” the sun’s beams on a centralized tower. In the tower is a special fluid that – when heated – turns water into steam. And that steam powers turbines to produce clean electricity.
The new material that these engineers developed can withstand degrees approaching 700 Celsius, which is significantly higher than what most concentrating solar dishes can withstand. This is also in stark contrast to photovoltaic panels, which actually work best in colder temperatures.
This pioneering research was funded by the SunShot program – an ambitious green initiative launched by the US Department of Energy.
When Will This New Technology Become Mainstream?
This recent breakthrough could be a huge environmental victory for everyone. And the technology lends itself to retrofits of pre-existing oil, gas, and coal power plants – all of which use steam to generate electricity.
But in order for UC San Diego’s technology to become mainstream, a few things have to happen:
- The new concentrating solar material must come out of the prototype phase in order to become cost-competitive. That might take several years – depending on how much funding goes into development.
- Arguably the bigger hurdle is safety. Concentrating solar power has a bad reputation in some circles. Given the extreme heat, it’s not uncommon for birds to get zapped once they stray too close to a solar farm. At one CSP power plant, as many as 28,000 birds die every year.
And no matter how affordable or safe the technology becomes, it is unlikely that you’ll ever be able to install concentrating solar power on your residential property. This technology is best suited for major plants – given the huge startup costs and land requirements.
Fortunately, you can still go solar. Photovoltaic panels don’t offer 90% efficiency rates. But they can slash your utility bill (to $0 a month). And they can also reduce your carbon footprint to zero.
To learn more, schedule a free consultation with our expert solar team.