One of the consistent problems with solar platforms has been the inefficient conversion of sunlight to electricity. New technology and strategies are dealing with this issue.
Traditional power generating plants work by using a fuel, often fossil, to heat a liquid until it expands or turns into a gas. The pressure or gas than rotates a turbine, which cranks up a generator and produces the massive amounts of electricity we all take for granted. This is a time tested method and is used in coal, nuclear, hydropower and most major power sources. The concept is now being transferred to solar platforms in an effort to get more bang for the buck out of these clean energy platforms.
The problem with solar is sunlight is converted to energy at a rate of 10 to 15 percent efficiency, a truly uninspiring number. Put in sports terms, the best batter in baseball would have a batting average of 150, a quarterback would complete 1.5 of his attempted throws and Michael Jordan would have missed 9 out of every 10 dunks. The numbers simply aren’t pretty.
The problem with solar power is the base construct of solar cells. Various forms of silicon are used to convert sunlight into energy. The material is simply inefficient and improvements are slow and incremental. The situation is similar to trying to turn a moped into a high performance racing bike. You don’t have much to work with. Given the limitations of silicon, solar producers are trying new strategies.
One of the major new strategies is to use the sun as a direct heating component to produce power. Instead of trying to directly convert the sunlight with silicon wafers, producers are trying to use reflective panels to focus it onto a specific spot. This spot then contains a pipe or pool of liquid. The concentrated focus of the sun heats the liquid up and the traditional turbine to generator to electricity strategy is undertaken. If you’ve ever sat in a car in traffic on a summer day without air conditioning, you’ll understand the concept.
Generating energy from the sun on a large scale has always been a bit of a head scratcher. Early returns on the concentrated energy strategy, however, have been extremely positive. Major fields are being used in Germany and the future appears…bright.