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The next big idea in Solar Power

Jul 26
And you will, too!

I’m diverging from the kind of topics I normally write about today to bring you a big idea I think everyone needs to hear.  Also, I need your help.  I’m trying to help my dad win a grant.  But it’s a grant that will help him save the Earth* so, you know, there’s something in it for you, too.

Before I proceed, please choose a door:

Door #1:  “I’m too busy/don’t care what this is about but want to help your dad. Where do I vote?”

Door #2:  “Hold on, sister. I’m not the kind of person who goes around voting for things I haven’t read and don’t understand. Tell me what this is all about and I’ll think about it.”

Closed Door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you selected Door #1, please click here to see voting instructions.

If you selected Door #2, please continue reading below.

Renewable Energy.  Everyone’s got an opinion, right?  I haven’t really paid attention to it until somewhat recently.  A few years ago my dad was appointed as President of the Alabama Solar Association.

Sometime after that, he and his business partners started Affordable Energy Solutions, a service-disabled veteran owned small business based in Alabama, USA.

What I’m trying to tell you is my dad talks about solar energy.  A LOT.  And being the stubborn chip off the ol’ block that I am, I’m rather proud of the fact that it only took me about three years to start listening to what he had to say.

There’s no denying it, coal and oil give us a LOT of bang for our buck.  In terms of Kilowatt Hours, (kWh), we get 0.9 kWh per pound of Coal consumed, and a staggering 12.7 kWh per gallon of oil consumed.  I won’t bore you with any more numbers but it should be widely known that, worldwide, we are using coal and oil at higher rates, and there is not an infinite supply of these resources.  In short:  We only have a certain amount left, so we’re using it up as fast as we can.  Because….we’re smart.

With this knowledge it’s only logical we transition to renewable, by all accounts infinite sources of energy.  And solar seems the most obvious and most promising (for now).

One of the principal complaints about solar energy has historically been the inefficiency of the solar panels.  Photovoltaic (see Dad?  I listen!) technology has been around since the 1830s, but it’s taken a long time to reach the point where they supply viable energy solutions on a mass scale.  Partly because we fail to invest in research & development, partly because we use too much energy, and partly because the technology hadn’t caught up to our most basic demands.

The main reason solar cells struggle to sustain efficient energy collection and distribution today is because the panels become overheated, and they can no longer work effectively until they reach a lower temperature.  It’s somewhat like your car.  If your car’s engine runs too hot, the engine stops working as efficiently and you may have to pull over to the side of the road and wait for it to cool down.

In terms of solar panels, when they reach too high a temperature nothing catastrophic happens, they just stop working as  hard until they cool back down.  That means in the hottest parts of the day, or what I call “Prime Sun-Grabbin’-Time”, in some climates, the solar panels will actually get too much sun to collect the Sun’s energy.

In short, your solar panels take a break when it’s hot.

solar house figure

Like me, solar panels lose motivation at temperatures above 90°F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been a problem for as long as Photovoltaic technology has been in use and solar experts have devised a few different solutions to help.  You can now buy certain types of solar cells for hotter climates that don’t lose their collection efficiency until higher temps.  You can install the solar panels with room for airflow beneath them to help them stay cool.  You can sprinkle them with ice chips and serve them mint juleps (okay I might’ve made that last one up).  But the options have been limited and only work to a certain point.

Until now.

Collaborating with other engineers, Affordable Energy Solutions identified a new way to help those PV cells keep their cool, using a newly invented material. I can’t provide many details for proprietary reasons, and also because I am not a solar expert. But these guys are, and hearing them explain it is (I must admit) very exciting.

Cool solar panels are happy solar panels!

Cool solar panels are happy solar panels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Economist just published a piece about the cost effectiveness of wind and solar, and I’ll admit the numbers (on the surface) look pretty damning.  But let’s put this in perspective.

When the first automobile hit the streets in Germany in 1886 it boasted a top speed of 10mph (16km/h).  It did take a little while for those “horseless carriages” to catch on big, and by the time the Model-T came into mass production the top speed was a blistering 45mph (72km/h).  (It’s interesting to note that the fuel economy of the Model-T, at 25mpg in the city and 30 on the highway was roughly the same as many cars on the road today.)

We didn’t stop making cars because it “only goes 45mph.”  We kept on making them.  Because as a society we saw a need for the technology and decided to invest in it.

If the principal complaint about solar technology is that it doesn’t produce energy as efficiently as burning finite fossil fuels, do we give up?  Or do we keep inventing until we solve the problem and make it better?

The simple, blunt truth is this:  The only real reason we haven’t already achieved higher efficiency and lower cost in solar technology is because we have decided not to do it.

I was joking about the mint juleps (sadly), but I am completely serious when I say this proposal has the potential to be a game changer. The only thing (besides lack of public support) standing in the way of widespread implementation of solar energy is getting the technology to collect and distribute enough energy to meet our demands.

We have a chance to bring solar technology a giant leap forward and turn it into a viable energy resource for the average consumer.  Giving up is not an option.

What do you say, Internet?

Are you ready to stop throwing away fat chunks of your paycheck on high energy bills drawing off rapidly depleting fossil fuels and start collecting from an energy source that will (in time) pay for itself?

Then let’s make this happen!

My dad and his business partners have submitted their idea for consideration with the Dept of Energy.  Their idea is listed among numerous other contributions on a public website where people can vote until August 25th.  The Top Five vote-getters will then be eligible for a grant to help them develop this technology.

Click here to see the voting instructions.

After you vote, please share this blog post.  If you have questions about the technology, reach out to my dad on LinkedIn.  He will be happy to talk to you about this and answer any questions you have.

Thanks for reading!  Now back to your regularly scheduled programming:  Snarky blogs about business.

* This may be slight hyperbole.  Or not.

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