5 Things You Should Know About the IBM and Airlight Energy Sunflower
We’ve talked a lot about the new forms solar panels are taking on in recent weeks and it seems the innovation shows no signs of slowing down. The latest in solar panel innovation is the Sunflower, and we’ve got some essential facts that you need to know about the interesting new panel.
5. The panel was developed through a partnership between IBM and Switzerland’s Airlight Energy.
While you’ve undoubtedly heard of IBM, the same probably can’t be said for Airlight Energy. The Swiss company is primarily focused on large-scale solar solutions and the production of electricity and thermal energy. The company is also working on electricity storage, one of the major innovations needed for the renewable energy industry to move forward. The company is highly committed to sustainability, with its intelligent use of land, water, and resources.
4. The panel is designed to actually look like a tall sunflower.
It’s a good thing, too, since its actual name—the High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal System (HCPVT)—is a lot less attractive. The unit is 32 feet high, measuring roughly 430 square feet. It’s covered with 36 elliptic mirrors that concentrate sunlight into a receiver at the center of the panel containing an array of PV chips.
This is where IBM comes in, as the technology for liquid cooling is the same as IBM’s supercomputers, though its application here is inspired by something more natural.
“The direct cooling technology with very small pumping power used to cool the photovoltaic chips with water is inspired by the hierarchical branched blood supply system of the human body,” Dr. Bruno Michel, manager, advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research, said.
3. The unit is designed with longevity and customization in mind.
Scientists estimate that with proper maintenance, the system could last up to 60 years. The mirrors and protective foil will need to be replaced once every 10-15 years and the PV cells every 25. Still, it’s a relatively low-maintenance system and the team believes that as technology continues to advance, so will improvements for the Sunflower.
Also important is the ability to add a drinkable water or air conditioning output from its hot water heater.
2. The unit is designed for rural or remote deployment.
These longevity and customization factors are important, since they allow the system to be deployed in more remote or rural areas. The unit is relatively simple to install and with no seasonal dependence on its output, it can operate year round, making it an effective long-term solution to the problem of energy accessibility.
The drinkable water system is of particular importance.
“Such a system could provide 30–40 liters of drinkable water per square meter of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a more than 25 percent yield or two kilowatt hours per day—a little less than half the amount of water the average person needs per day according to the United Nations, whereas a large multi-dish installation could provide enough water for a town,” the team explained in a press release.
1. The Sunflower will be available sooner than you think.
In order to bring the unit to market, Airlight has created Dsolar, a spin-off company designed to market, license, and sell the technology. The first two available units will be given away via a contest held by the team. Beyond that, the Sunflower could hit the market in just a few years.
“Not only is the system affordable, but it will create jobs where it is installed because many of the materials will be sourced locally,” Gianluca Abrosetti, head of research for Airlight Energy, said in a statement. “We expect to partner with firms around the world to bring a commercial version to market by 2017.”
Until then, watch a video detailing the system above.
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.