When we imagine what will power human civilization in the future, say, 100 years down the line or beyond, we tend to go big and utopian—gleaming fusion power, thorium nuke plants, sparkling solar arrays that stretch across the desert. Course, the dystopia-envisioning cynics do the opposite, and go dingy and desperate—sputtering Mad Max diesel generators, survivalist home solar panels, if anything at all.
Obviously, the reality of our future energy mix is going to look a lot different than both, and is probably going to land somewhere in the middle, and may very well look like nothing we’ve ever imagined. It might, for instance, look like a bunch of perpetually spinning solar cones that dot our cities.
See, a company called V3 has recently announced that it has built and tested solar technology that’s cheaper than coal. If they’re right, that’s it, that’s the big one—coal is the cheapest power source for most of the world right now, though natural gas has edged out here in the U.S. If solar can beat either on cost, sans subsidies, that’s game over for fossil fuels.
So what’s the secret? How does V3 plan on beating out a bevy of solar aspirants who’ve been working steadily at grinding the cost of panels down for decades?
Shape ‘em like a cone, and make ‘em spin. That’s pretty much it.
V3 gave CleanTechnica the exclusive on its new tech, which boils down to this:
Traditional solar panels are only collecting the optimum amount of sunlight for a small period of time during the day—when the sun is shining head-on to the panels. Some manufacturers have built mechanical trackers to tackle this, but that, of course, demands energy be sucked down in the name of absorbing more sub. Simply shaping panels into cones is a simpler, cheaper, more energy efficient answer—the V3s will collect more sunlight.
But the big breakthrough is this: they spin. Grist’s David Roberts explains why this is such a big deal:
“Solar panels produce much more energy if sunlight is concentrated by a lens before it hits the solar cell; however, concentrating the light also creates immense amounts of heat, which means that concentrating solar panels (CPV) require expensive, specialized, heat-resistant solar cell materials.
The Spin Cell concentrates sunlight on plain old (cheap) silicon PV, but keeps it cool by spinning it.”
As a result, the company says its panels can produce power for 8 cents per kw/h. The average rate for electricity consumers in the U.S. is 12 cents per kw/h.
If these panels pan out—and the company claims their cost projections have been verified by independent solar specialists—they will become the single most attractive energy source currently available. With no pollution or emissions generated, no giant, centralized plants in need of construction—these things can be dropped down anywhere there’s room for a meter-wide traffic cone—the V3 solar spinners will be the belle of the clean energy ball.
If. If, if, if. Neat-looking, safe and clever technologies have a habit of not panning out as planned, and energy tech is no different (see Solyndra, thorium, etc). But it might indeed, and that’s beyond enticing--especially considering that the company says it's got orders for 4 GW worth of the cones already lined up. That's enough to power about 3 million homes. 3 million. So, yeah--the future may yet look closer to something like this: