Bringing Sunlight Inside
Mechanical Engineers Create High-tech
May 1, 2007 - Science Daily
Photovoltaic panels have a new design: concentric
circles that focus the sun's rays on miniaturized
modules. Having the panels automatically sense sunlight
and turn towards it also makes these high-tech solar
cells more efficient.
Solar energy technology is advancing daily. Now,
a new, high-tech system is working to efficiently
harness the power of the sun and drastically reduce
harmful carbon dioxide emissions.
Today, there are more than 76 million residential
buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings
in the United States. Combined, they use two-thirds
of all electricity consumed in the United States and
produce 35 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.
Anna Dyson, an architectural scientist from Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, is leading
the way to make solar energy a real alternative to
pollution-emitting fossil fuels. Her system contains
rows of thin lenses that track the sun's movement.
Sunlight floods each lens and is focused onto a postage-stamp
sized, high-tech solar cell. Dyson says, "Really,
what we want to do is be capturing and transferring
that energy for usable means."
Conventional solar systems are about 14 percent efficient.
This system has a combined heat and power efficiency
of nearly 80 percent. "What they're doing is very
efficiently capturing and transferring that light
into electricity and the solar heat into hot water,"
"We basically have a system that can sense where
the sun is at any time, and then the modules will
basically be facing directly perpendicular to the
incoming sun rays," she says. The lenses will be nestled
between window panes and all of the pieces will be
made of glass.
Michael Jensen, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer from
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute says reducing dependency
on fossil fuels is critical. Dr. Jensen explains,
"We use fewer fossil fuels, then we are going to put
less CO2 into the atmosphere. We are going to decrease
the effects on global warming."
This system will also lower the lighting needs of
buildings, as it will provide usable light inside.
It could supply as much as 50 percent of the energy
needed for a building to operate. The system is set
to be installed in the Center for Excellence and Environmental
Energy Systems in Syracuse, New York, in 2008, and
in the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York
City by 2009.