Monday, November 3, 2008

Hybrid Concentrated Solar Energy - Do It Yourself?

Copper tubing and panels being soldered before being spray-painted flat-black. To be used in solar water heater collector. Work done at the University of Guam. Photo by Dave Gardner

The concept of "Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV)" is becoming well-known and can be seen every day on the road in much of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

But now, in a joint Australian, American, and Chinese research project, the concept of "Hybrid Concentrated Solar Energy" is being studied and has resulted in devices that combine solar heat collection with solar photovoltaic electricity generation.

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU), China's Tianjin University, and Silicon Valley's Chromasun created large roof-mounted solar-trough-concentrator systems that use the mirrors to focus sunlight onto strips of high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. Then, the thermal aspect of the collectors uses heat-absorbing water-flow tubes that provide flow to hot water storage and in-slab floor heating. These devices were large installations (for example, 80 mirrors, 80 meters long, 20 kilowatts) used primarily for businesses and government institutions.

This process has worked so well that now the researchers are developing smaller devices to be available for individual consumer home use.

You can read more details about this project here: Hybrid Concentrated Solar Energy".

Still Room for the Do-It-Yourselfers

Although it's great that this type of research is being done at the University and Corporate level, what's to keep folks from tinkering with this concept at home and coming up with something similarly innovative or even better? Who wants to wait for the research and development to finally work its way through the government and corporate bureaucracy before becoming available for regular consumers like us?

You can buy "pieces" of solar photovoltaic chips or the whole panels on eBay or from other sources. You can also go to local hardware stores to buy copper tubing, PVC-pipes, caulking compound, flat-black paint, "glazing", plywood, aluminum sheets, and other supplies. You can also find plastic fresnel lenses (useful as "concentrators") readily available either through online suppliers or your local stores.

If you don't have much in the way of mechanical or electrical or plumping ability, you may be able to find some friends or acquaintances who might like to help you with a project like this. You only need to ask around.

If you have a website shows your own alternate energy contraptions and you'd like to share it, let me know the link--and I'll link to it here!

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